Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Pacific leader mourned

Family in shock after brain aneurysm kills super-fit media network chief at only 46.

Tom Etuata. Photo / Supplied
Tom Etuata. Photo / Supplied

When Tom Etuata did not show up to dinner, his brother knew something was wrong.

Half an hour later, he found him dead on the floor of his Greenlane flat, having suffered a brain aneurysm.

Mr Etuata, aged 46, was the chief executive of the Pacific Media Network. He also worked as a fitness instructor at Les Mills and lived a healthy lifestyle.

So his sudden death stunned his family, who have been told by the coroner that Mr Etuata had a blood clot on his brain that burst suddenly and would have killed him instantly.

His father, the Rev Tom Etuata, told the Weekend Herald the family were struggling to comprehend why such a fit and healthy man was cut down in the prime of his life.

"We are still dealing with the grief and pain. A parent should not have to bury their child; that's not the way it should be," he said.

"We have the same name, so when he passed away there was some confusion. People were ringing thinking it was me who had died.

"I told them that I wished that was the case, that it was reversed and it was me instead of him."

Mr Etuata said his son spent much of last Saturday with his brother Steven. They had planned to meet again that night to have dinner in Ponsonby and watch Auckland play Canterbury in rugby's ITM Cup final.

After waiting 30 minutes, and not able to get his older brother on the phone, Steven Etuata drove to his flat and found him dead.

"As a church minister I go and comfort people in these situations," Tom Etuata Snr said.

"Recently I was helping a family here in Wellington deal with the tragic death of their son aged just 32, not realising that we would have that kind of pain pierce through our hearts ourselves two weeks later."

Tom Etuata Jnr was born in Niue and moved to Wellington when he was aged 4. His father and mother, Akeletama, had come to New Zealand two years earlier to undertake training with the intention of returning to Niue and working for the Government. But they decided to stay, and moved their children over as well.

Mr Etuata went to Mt Cook Primary School and Wellington College, where he was a prefect and excelled at sports.

After school, he had several casual jobs before he started working for the Government's Valuation Department and then the Ministry of Defence.

Twenty-four years ago, he married Viola and moved to her homeland, Samoa. They stayed for six years.

While there, Mr Etuata became involved in broadcasting and on his return to New Zealand, began working at Auckland's Radio 531pi as a sales manager. He later moved to Radio Niue FM and after the two merged, he was named CEO.

Tom Etuata Snr said his son revelled in his job and was passionate about his heritage.

He had been back in Niue this year to teach locals about healthy eating and fitness, and came back with a love of his culture and a strong connection to his roots.

"He achieved a great career, he was a very hard worker. Tom was the pride of the family," his father said.

"It's so sad it's happened."

The Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs paid tribute to Mr Etuata this week.

"The sudden and untimely death of Tom Etuata is a loss not only to his family and community," said chief executive Pauline Winter.

"His vision, energy and commitment to broadcasting in New Zealand and into the Pacific will be sorely missed by many Pacific people both in New Zealand and in the region.

"His interest in Pacific initiatives and issues meant the service he offered was not only professional, but reflected his deeply held commitment to Pacific broadcasting."

Labour's Pacific Island Affairs spokesman, Su'a William Sio, the MP for Mangere, said Mr Etuata was "a kind man who worked quietly and with humility to serve the diverse communities of the Pacific".

Mr Etuata will be farewelled at a service in Wellington on Monday.

He is survived by Viola and their daughter Summer, 18.

- NZ Herald

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