It may have been the disconnection from his biological father that motivated Jim Anderton to champion the tribe of nga mokai, the fatherless ones.

Then again it could have been a deep-seated instinct stemming from his Irish DNA, or perhaps even the social justice agenda implicit in the faith that he and I share. But whatever, we related one to the other.

He was generous with his support for my various causes over the years, GELS, the Group Employment Liaison Service which arose out of the 1981 Committee on Gangs, and, in more recent years, CAYAD, Community Action on Youth and Drugs in which he enrolled me as part of an effort to build community resilience against the use of methamphetamine.

He was a good minister to work for. He held the old school ethics of the public service and unlike some who surround themselves with sycophants he would accept free frank and fearless advice.


He listened. He questioned. And even if the proposition seemed counter-intuitive or even downright radical, and he agreed, he acted.

On the other hand he would not tolerate petty bureaucracy and when he encountered it, with his head slightly tilted downward, he would fix his eyes above his glasses and give a glare that would wither a pretentious departmental mandarin at 50 paces.

In 2004, when with my friend Joe Walsh of the Eagles I mounted a project I called the Sinners Tour as a way of raising consciousness about what was then our country's first methamphetamine epidemic, Jim, in his role as Associate Minister of Health, hosted us at Parliament.

We put on a little concert in the Grand Hall. We had a Black Power rap duo called the Dark Side and, of course, the brother Joe Walsh. In hosting us Jim was cunning. Firstly, he loved the guitar and although he eschewed alcohol he was a party man – take that as you like.

He knew the pulling power that Joe would have and the place was packed with policy geeks and decision makers. Jim knew Joe would speak truth to power and so it was.

That day Joe asked for compassion towards those of us who sin through our various addictions and even though this was 14 years ago the message has percolated and the narrative that was the war against drugs has shifted to one of harm reduction. Compassion has been substituted for the rod.

Jim hoped in those days that wise governors would reverse the inequities that arose out of what we now call neo-liberal economics. It must have pissed him off over the past decade to see the relentless rise of the plutocracy and the formation of new corporate oligarchies – roll on the revolution.

I'm travelling to his Requiem Mass. I will say my prayer of contrition and accept the Eucharist. In doing so I will pray for the peaceful repose of the soul of my tuakana Pakeha Jim Anderton. After mass, with my brother the Bald One, we will salute him with a haka.

Much has been said about Jim by those who hold power and influence. Our little tribute will be on behalf of those many whose voices may be faint but are full of love for Papa Hemi, a leader who cared.

I imagine his spirit will recognise our respect and affection and his family and friends will feel the aroha and their grief will be somewhat less.

Haere ra e te rangatira, haere, haere, haere atu ra. De profundis – eternal rest grant to him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.

* Denis O'Reilly, a life member of the Black Power, has been chief executive of the group employment liaison service in the former Department of Labour and was director of the New Zealand Employment Service, a forerunner of Winz.