Ngati Whakaue has lost its great rangatira Pihopa Kingi after the leading kaumatua died in Rotorua Hospital on Tuesday.

The 88-year-old had suffered a cancer relapse and had been told just under four weeks ago he only had four weeks to live.

Kingi was considered one of the great Te Arawa leaders of his generation and has twice been acknowledged for his contribution to his people, being made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 1999 then a decade later becoming a Companion of the Queen's Service Order (QSO).

It was fitting that both honours were double celebrations as he was acknowledged with his beloved wife, Maori health leader Inez Kingi, who was also bestowed the same honours in the same years.

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Pihopa Kingi with his beloved wife, Inez, in 2009 after they were appointed Companions of the Queen's Service Order for services to Te Arawa. Photo/File
Pihopa Kingi with his beloved wife, Inez, in 2009 after they were appointed Companions of the Queen's Service Order for services to Te Arawa. Photo/File

Inez has suffered from dementia for many years and is a full-time resident at The Care Village at Ngongotaha.

In September, Kingi invited the Rotorua Daily Post to his home to ensure the newspaper had a copy of a book he wrote about Inez that paid tribute to her work in the health sector.

He said at that meeting he wanted her legacy to be told in case she outlived him.

He described his health at the time as being "NBG" (no bloody good) but said he was happy and comfortable enough.

"I've had a good life," he told the Rotorua Daily Post.

Family spokesman Monty Morrison said Kingi's body would be at his home in Ohinemutu before being moved to Te Arawa's paramount marae, Te Papaiouru, at Ohinemutu at 9am on Thursday. His karakia whakamutunga (funeral service) will be held at 11am on Sunday.

Pihopa Kingi at the launch of the new Te Arawa Lakes Trust at Ohinemutu in 2006. Photo/File
Pihopa Kingi at the launch of the new Te Arawa Lakes Trust at Ohinemutu in 2006. Photo/File

Morrison said he had spent an hour with Kingi at the hospital on Monday night.

"In hindsight that was a really special time."

Morrison said Kingi was to be acknowledged this Friday night at the Whakaue Whakanuia, a formal dinner paying tribute to the hapu's leaders. Morrison said the Whakanuia would now be postponed so mourners could pay tribute at Kingi's tangi.

Morrison said one of the hardest times in Kingi's life was watching his wife's battle with dementia worsen.

Describing Inez as the love of Kingi's life, he would visit her in Whare Aroha Home and Hospital and be saddened she didn't remember who he was, Morrison said.

"For him in his shoes that was really distressing."

Pihopa Kingi speaks at the Vietnam medal presentation in 2016. Photo/File
Pihopa Kingi speaks at the Vietnam medal presentation in 2016. Photo/File

Kingi was a member of several trusts and boards for Te Arawa and was a mentor to many within the tribe, Morrison said.

"He had an ability to support people in such a way that they felt important and listened to. He will be remembered as a very cheery and understanding man yet someone who was forceful and powerful in negotiations without having to raise his voice.

"He was humble and easy to communicate with but very persuasive."

The son of Raniera Te Rawhiti Kingi and Rihi Karenga Taekata-Kingi, he married Inez in February 1955 and they have four children.

In 2009 when the Kingis were given their QSOs, Kingi told the Rotorua Daily Post he and his wife were destined to help people.

"You just don't feel like you deserve something like this when what you are doing is something you are destined to do,'' Kingi said. "We were raised by our parents to support and help our people.''