Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Mark Gosche: After bad news come the blessings

Birth and new beginnings bring joy for MP who quit politics after son's suicide to help care for incapacitated wife.

Vui Mark Gosche has busied himself in the Pacific community since he left politics. Photo / Richard Robinson.
Vui Mark Gosche has busied himself in the Pacific community since he left politics. Photo / Richard Robinson.

After the personal tragedies that marked Vui Mark Gosche's 12 years in politics, he was due for some good news - and since he quit politics in 2008 there have been some bittersweet and surprising reasons to celebrate.

The former Labour MP, who had held the Maungakiekie electorate, quit to care for his wife Carol after a cerebral haemorrhage in 2002 left her requiring 24-hour care.

Mr Gosche stood down from Cabinet in 2003 but stayed on as an MP for the next five years before deciding the travel and working hours were taking too much time away from her.

Then in 2007 his son, Kristian, committed suicide.

Like many MPs, Mr Gosche, 57, quietly got on with his life after leaving. But when the Herald called for a catch-up, he was on his way back from Hamilton where his fourth grandson had just been born - arriving on a very special day.

"Life has its twists and turns - the little boy my daughter has just had arrived on Kristian's birthday. He would have been 30. It's quite wonderful how things work out.

"You just never know, do you?"

There had also been good news a few years earlier, when out of the blue Carol was contacted by Bede - the son she adopted out when she was 16, almost 40 years ago. Adoption reforms in 1985 allowed adult adopted children to access their original birth certificates unless the parent had vetoed it.

"One of the joys of the last few years was him finding her, and finding out that he and his wife had just had a baby. That was one of those things we never expected to happen.

"And out of the blue it happened, and it was lovely. So now, having lost our son, we've found another. Carol had thought she'd never set eyes on him because in those days you didn't know where they went."

Mr Gosche said Bede found out most of the details thanks to Google delivering links to a story on TV One's disability issues Attitude programme featuring the Gosches, and information in other media. They now see Bede - who works in adventure tourism in the South Island - and his family about twice a year.

"My son and daughter have suddenly got a brother, and the family likeness is amazing. So having had our share of tragedy, the last two or three years has been a nice change for our family. Instead of having all those things to grieve about, you've got some nice things around."

Mr Gosche has busied himself in the Pacific community he comes from - choosing to take a different path after 15 years in the Service and Food Workers' Union and 12 years in politics.

His house reflects his Pacific roots - tapa cloths hang on the walls and tivaevae cushions sit on the chairs.

It is an open, airy home on the bank of the Panmure Basin where the Gosches moved in 2000 after living in Otahuhu for 20 years - two years before Carol's "bleed".

An occasional loud screech comes from outside, which Mr Gosche explains comes from the shag colony.

"There's about 50 of the damn things in the tree there. They're all protected. You can hear them at night - it sometimes sounds like a person."

Mr Gosche - a New Zealand-born Samoan - was the first person of Pacific Island descent to become a Cabinet minister. He was once Minister of Pacific Island Affairs and now works for the ministry he once led - a job he took up after a year as a consultant.

"That was unplanned. I hadn't envisaged becoming a public servant. What I had envisaged was working in the Pacific community. So it worked out quite well."

His minister now is National's Hekia Parata, who has faced problems in her education portfolio, but Mr Gosche cites the public servant's apolitical creed when asked for his views on anything remotely political.

His current work mainly relates to early childhood education for Pacific children, and involves cajoling the Ministry of Education, other government agencies, the Auckland Council and community organisations.

He also serves as a director on four boards, mostly unpaid and relating to Pacific organisations.

One highlight was his three-year stint on the board of the NZ Rugby League, the sport he played in his younger years and still follows avidly. That was from 2009 to 2012 - a turbulent, but interesting time including a major restructure of the sport.

"It was the game that I played since I was 5, and the game that I love."

Mr Gosche did not seek re-election because of the time commitment. But he said he was pleased his place went to Iva Ropati, another Pacific Islander who had played league.

"When you think about who plays sport, especially at a higher level, most codes ... are very reliant on Maori and Pacific Island talent, but there hasn't been a bringing through of people into governance roles."

Mr Gosche doesn't pretend he has no regrets about his exit from politics. He does now get the one thing few politicians enjoy: time.

He occasionally checks his former colleagues' Facebook pages with their constant updates as they attend the plethora of meetings, hearings and events MPs are duty-bound to go to.

"The terrible lifestyle that goes with politics is something you don't miss at all.

"You have regrets about what you left behind in terms of the things you could have done.

"Power is the wrong word, but you do have the ability to make some enormous changes in politics that you can't in any other job or profession. So you miss that, but you gain an enormous amount of time that you never realised you were missing out on."

He is still confident it was the only decision he could have made. Carol, he says, is "just the same" although she has regained limited speech.

Mr Gosche has always been open about aspects of his home life and the impact of Carol's haemorrhage. He is still open, talking honestly about what life is like, the challenges and social isolation that comes with it. He is matter of fact rather than resentful about this.

"Life is very much constrained by the hours of the caregivers we can get. Over time, you just disconnect from so many people in your life - friends and family that drift away because it's difficult to keep a social life going.

"It's also difficult for a lot of people to really handle Carol's disability. Some of her best friends just can't handle it, and some people in the family as well. I think the grief and upset gets too much. But others have been phenomenal and come regularly."

He says he gets satisfaction from his current life. There is one other consolation, and he laughs when he says it. Mr Gosche's "planned exit" was at least a lot more dignified than the summary ejection some of his colleagues were subjected to in 2008.

Vui Mark Gosche

*A New Zealand-born Samoan, he was given the matai title Vui in 2007 by the village of Lano, where his father was born.
*Labour Party MP from 1996 to 2008. Was MP for Maungakiekie from 1999 to 2008.
*Stepped down in 2008 to care for his wife Carol, who had a cerebral haemorrhage in 2002.
*Was NZ's first Cabinet minister of Pacific Island descent, including time as Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Transport, Housing, Civil Aviation, Corrections and Racing.
*After leaving politics in 2008, he worked as a consultant for a year before taking full-time employment as an adviser at the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs.
*Labour Party member since 1981, he was given life membership in 2010.
*A former trade unionist.

- NZ Herald

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