Tribute to John Marsh MBE

By abbey.hartevelt@dailypost.co.nz, Abigail Hartevelt

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Major John Marsh was a "Mr Fix-it" and nothing was too small or too hard for him to solve, says his close friend and prominent Te Arawa lawyer, Donna Hall.

"John was always there when you needed help to tidy and fix things," said Ms Hall.

Mr Marsh, who was the former director of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, now known as Te Puia, died on Tuesday after a long illness. He was 69. He was farewelled at a private family service on Wednesday.

Mr Marsh, who was born in Rotorua, was a major in the first battalion of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment and served in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam between 1965 and 1967.

He was the director of the arts and crafts institute from 1989 to 1996. Mr Marsh was also made a Member of the British Empire in 1993 for services to Maori and the community. Before he worked at the institute, he was principal wildlife officer and later chief species protection officer for the Department of Conservation.

He was vice-president of the Rotorua RSA from 1989 to 1991.

He had also previously been the main licence holder for Mokoia Island before the licence was purchased in 2007 by the Wai Ora Mokoia Island Experience.

Mr Marsh was the chairman of the Manahi Victoria Cross Committee - a committee which led to the late Haane Manahi receiving recognition for his bravery in the battle of Takrouna Ridge in Tunisia, North Africa.

In 1943, Mr Manahi, a member of the 28th Maori Battalion's B Company, was recommended for a Victoria Cross for bravery during the battle of Takrouna Ridge. The award was later mysteriously downgraded to a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

In 2006 it was decided Mr Manahi, who died in a car crash in 1986, would not be awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously despite supporters lobbying the government.

In March 2007, the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, presented Mr Manahi's sons with a special citation for bravery, an altar frontal cloth, a letter of tribute from the Queen and a sword that had belonged to King George VI, in recognition of his bravery.

Mr Marsh spoke at the ceremony at Ohinemutu and sat next to Prince Andrew.

The Rotorua RSA's Rolly Rolston said those types of functions were his forte.

"He was very proper, very staunch, very aware of military protocol ... That was his role. That was when he shone. He knew when to say, where to say and what to say. He knew his Tikanga Maori and he knew his European protocol. He was very proud to have been a soldier."

Ms Hall, who worked alongside Mr Marsh on the Manahi Victoria Cross Committee, said he was a fantastic man.

"If John was in your team you had a great team. He was a great team player ... we all loved John."

Mr Marsh's family could not be reached for comment. Mr Marsh, who was a JP and a celebrant, is survived by his wife Sue, children and grandchildren.

- ROTORUA DAILY POST

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