If there was ever a template to create the ideal "model of commitment" to the tamariki and mokopuna of Whanganui … it would have been designed around Stuart Anthony Kawau, affectionately known as Papa Stu.
He was always full of fun and frivolity but never lost sight of the kaupapa at hand.
In his role as tumuaki (principal) of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tupoho he wasn't capable of growling the students, but he was very aware of the level of gravity (loosely translated as cheeky grin) needed to defuse any given situation.
The mokopuna always came first … sometimes to the utter frustration of the kaiako (teachers) involved … but always first.
He had a heart of gold, an infectious laugh and the gift of the gab; attributes that saw him achieve what many more experienced professionals struggled to realise.
His unwavering support of his whānau, the kura and the students was uppermost in his thoughts and actions.
Stuart's career in Māori education began in the 1980s with the establishment of Te Kōhanga Reo o Te Kohinga Aroha, a home-based total immersion preschool language nest run by whānau members in their family home in Gonville.
At that time the majority of the tamariki were his own whānau and mokopuna.
The kōhanga reo later grew to accommodate the greater Castlecliff area.
Many of the graduates from it became students and later staff at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tupoho.
After graduating from the Te Rangakura Teacher Training Programme in 1996 Stuart began his teaching career at Parikino School, on the Whanganui River Rd, and then moved to Aramoho School, before accepting a position at Te Kura o Kokohuia, where he was a pupil in his own formative years and where several other Te Rangakura graduates were based.
In 1998 he joined the staff at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Ātihaunui a Pāpārangi, where he readily acknowledged the wealth of knowledge and support that tumuaki Whaea Uru Gardiner shared with her teachers and trainees.
He was appointed to the position of tumuaki of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tupoho in 1998, a position he held for almost 20 years.
The school began with only five students in one of the vacant prefab classrooms at Te Kōhanga Reo o Te Heti, in Hinau St, before moving into the refurbished former IHC buildings in Cross St.
Despite the many challenges of the time, with his wife Kahu beside him and a supportive team of Whanganui kaumatua, parents and teachers, Stuart gathered the necessary information to reassure the Ministry of Education that a second kura kaupapa Māori was a viable and necessary option for the mokopuna of Whanganui.
In the past 20 years Stuart and his staff and whānau have not only established the now thriving Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tupoho (primary school) and Te Wharekura o Tupoho (secondary school) but also more recently Te Kōpae Reo o Tupoho, an early childhood education unit based on the kura grounds.
The combined primary and secondary schools have a roll of 161.
Stuart was the youngest of eight children born to Ted and Kath Kawau (Te Ātihaunui a Pāpārangi, Waiariki), and always the first port of call if any of his whānau or others needed support.
He would give the proverbial shirt off his back to help others and his generosity was only surpassed by the gratitude of the many whānau he helped over the years.
The crowd attending his final farewell at Whangaehu Marae on June 30 and the whānau waiting for him at the Aramoho Cemetery was a true and humbling testament to the love and respect Stuart had earned in his short time with us.
He left a legacy of pride to be Māori and there is no doubt that he will be sadly missed by all, especially wife and soulmate Kahu and his many devoted tamariki and mokopuna.
"Ka pinea koe e mātou ki te pine o te aroha, ki te pine e kore nei e waikura e.
Moe mai ra e Papa Stu."
"The bond created in aroha can never be severed (on this side or the next).
Rest in peace Papa Stu"