Sir Paul Reeves dies, aged 78

By Hayden Donnell, NZPA, NZ Herald staff

Playing the role of peacemaker: Sir Paul Reeves. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Playing the role of peacemaker: Sir Paul Reeves. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Sir Paul Reeves, an Anglican archbishop who became New Zealand's first Maori Governor-General, has died. He was 78.

He died overnight after battling cancer.

A statement issued by Sir Paul's family in July said he had been diagnosed with cancer and was stepping back from most aspects of public life.

In a statement this morning, Sir Paul's family acknowledged they were "very aware of the immense grief and loss felt by Maori, the church and the wider community, and there will be time and opportunity for people to pay their respects in the days to come.''

Sir Paul became a deacon in the Anglican Church in 1958, a priest in 1960 and was made the Bishop of Waiapu in 1971, Bishop of Auckland in 1979 and Primate and Archbishop of New Zealand in 1980.

His rise through the ranks culminated in his becoming Archbishop of New Zealand from 1980 to 1985.

Despite his church responsibilities, he was unafraid of taking political stands as chairman of the Environmental Council from 1974-76 and as a supporter of Citizens for Rowling in 1975.

First Maori Governor General

Queen Elizabeth appointed Sir Paul - then 53 - as Governor General in November 1985, on the advice of Prime Minister David Lange.

He was the first person of Maori descent to take the position, and iwi leaders welcomed his appointment as a significant step toward the spirit of cooperation described in the Treaty of Waitangi.

Sir Paul belonged to the Puketapu hapu of the Te Atiawa of Taranaki.

Friends have credited him with building a bridge between Pakeha and Maori.

After completing his term as Governor-General, Sir Paul took up a number of national and international positions, including that of Anglican Observer at the United Nations in New York, a position he held for three years.

Sir Paul was also deputy leader of the Commonwealth Observer group to South Africa and Chair of the Nelson Mandela Trust. He went on to chair the Fiji Constitution Review Commission from 1995 to 1997 and has also done similar work for the Commonwealth in Guyana, on constitutional reform

He was admitted to the Order of New Zealand in 2007, the country's highest honour.

This followed being made a Knight Bachelor and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1985 and a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victoria Order in 1986.

He was also awarded the Queens' Service Order for public services in 1990.

Sir Paul was elected Chancellor of AUT University in 2005 - a role he kept until his death because of its personal importance.

His commitment to shaping and improving New Zealand life never wavered.

In the end, he dealt with his diagnosis and the onset of his illness with trademark strength and courage.

He leaves behind his wife, Lady Beverly Reeves and three daughters.

Plans are already underway for a State Funeral to honour Sir Paul's lifetime of work.

A public tangi will be held tomorrow at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Auckland.

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