Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Gracious man who was always there

Laughter, patriotism and humility - those are the words that come to mind when I think of Peter Fatialofa.

The first time I met Fats was as a scrawny 13-year-old watching a group of big guys wrestling a piano into our sitting room.

My dad was so excited to see "Pedar" and pointed, while whispering excitedly in my ear: "He was a Manu Samoa captain. He's the man."

Fats, gracious as always, smiled and shook our hands. It would be years until I met him again, this time with his wife, Anne, and wrestler The Rock's mother, Ata Maivia Johnson.

As the president of the Samoan Sports Association, he had managed to get her over for that year's annual awards.

Fats shouted us food and I had to politely push away the mug of beer that landed in front of me. He smiled and said something about church girls, which made us all laugh.

Over the next few years he happily took my calls seeking comment on stories - from Manu Samoa beating the Wallabies to thieves who had tried to steal a church organ but then gave up, abandoning it at the door.

Fats laughed when I called him about that one, but then said seriously: "You need two big guys or six normal-sized people for that."

The last time I spoke to Fats was early last year, after he left a message on my phone. He complained that another piano mover, named Pete, was using his name to get business.

"I'm pissed off," he told me.

My dad's right. Peter Fats, you were truly the man. Manuia lau malaga.

- NZ Herald

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