One of New Zealand's leading teachers and champions of te reo Maori has died in Kaitaia, aged 93.

Merimeri Penfold was born in 1920 in Te Hapua, near Cape Reinga, of Ngati Kuri descent.

She trained as a teacher and worked at schools around the country for three decades before lecturing in te reo at Auckland University for another 30 years.

She was a Human Rights Commissioner, a member of the Maori Education Foundation and the Broadcasting Commission, and served many other Maori, community and academic organisations.


Dr Penfold worked on the seventh edition of Williams Maori Language Dictionary and was an accomplished poet and composer of waiata. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Literature by Auckland University in 2000 and made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Maori in 2001.

Pita Sharples, co-founder of the Maori Party, said Dr Penfold was a staunch advocate for recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi, te reo Maori, Maori education and human rights.
He described her as ''the big sister'' for the handful of Maori students in the 1960s, and a stalwart at Auckland University for all things Maori.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said Dr Penfold's love of te reo and its place in New Zealand was implicit in everything she did.

''Her compassion for all people was obvious in her work in the area of human rights, as well as her absolute belief that human rights for all New Zealanders derives from the Treaty of Waitangi,'' he said.

''Na reira e te kuia, e te taonga a te mate, whakangaro atu ra ki te po e.''

The Human Rights Commission is also mourning Dr Penfold's death, chief commissioner David Rutherford saying she was an unforgettable person who had left an unforgettable legacy.

''The Commission remains indebted to this incredible woman's drive, focus and mana,'' he said.

Dr Penfold died on Tuesday and is currently lying at Waiora Marae, Ngataki, about 60km north of Kaitaia.

She is expected to be be interred at Te Hapua on Saturday.