Today Our People faces the toughest assignment that's yet been set us. It's to profile someone we haven't been able to speak with in person, rather we've drawn heavily from the publication compiled as homage to Inez Kingi, the woman widely regarded as Rotorua's Queen of Maori health.

The 73-page booklet's the work of her husband of nearly 60 years Te Arawa's most senior kaumatua, Pihopa Kingi. As he puts it "Although Inez's working days have ended the legend that she has created will live on for generations to come."

That's not merely the boast of a proud husband. Inez's commitment to promoting health and wellbeing among Maori has gained royal recognition twice over, firstly in 1999 when she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) then, a decade on, when she became a Companion of the Queen's Service Order (QSO).

Both awards were given simultaneously to her "prince consort" but we're under strict instructions that it's Inez we're profiling, not Pihopa; he insists he simply followed in his wife's slipstream.


"Like everyone else I've never been able to say 'no' to her. She's always had this great ability to convince people what is the right thing to do and get on with it, me included."

For one whose indelibly stamped her commitment to health care it's a cruel irony that Inez is now being cared for herself. Like other family members before her, dementia has taken up residence in her mind, hence our inability to chat with her. A portion of the proceeds from her husband's publication will go to Rotorua's Alzheimer's and Dementia Society, another touching tribute.

The 12th (and youngest) child of a Maori mother and English father Inez, like her husband, was Ohinemutu-born and raised. But it wasn't until they were in their 20's that they became "girlfriend and boyfriend". They married at Ohinemutu's St Faith's church on February 10, 1955... a Thursday, deliberately selected, Pihopa reveals, so the couple could honeymoon over a three-day weekend. "By Monday we were back at work, for the next 20 years neither of us missed another day off work."

By then Inez was a fully fledged school dental nurse... not just any dental nurse but the star of the class of 1950, presented with the director's medal for outstanding excellence when she graduated two years later. Pihopa notes it's an achievement never equalled. "Some say it was because the standard she set was too high."

Her compulsory country service was served at remote Te Araroa; once completed it was home to set up her drill at Glenholme Primary. There was a break brining up four children under five before returning to her own first school, Rotorua Primary, followed by Sunset Intermediate.

In 1983 her career altered course. With the support of the Maori Women's Health League (Inez was president) she turned her attention to building Ohinemutu's Tunohopu Health Centre, providing facilities where, and we quote from Pihopa's book "Western-trained professionals and traditional Maori healers could work side-by-side."

The choice of its site wasn't coincidental. The land belonged to her husband. "I gave it to her thinking it would be the best way to get her off my back, but she said 'now you're the donor you have to be on the committee, who could argue with that kind of logic?"' Inez became Tunohopu's inaugural administrator.

When 'economic reforms' cut a swathe through government departments many left jobless turned to the bottle. Inez was having none of it, becoming instrumental in establishing Te Utuhina Manaakitanga Trust, one of the country's most successful alcohol and addiction treatment services.


Inez had an affinity with the out-of-work. She, too, had experienced redundancy. For some years she'd commuted to Wellington as Maori Advisor to the Health Department, fostering bi-cultural awareness across government agencies. Under the new, lean regime the position was seen as an unnecessary luxury and axed.

Inez was undaunted. When the World Health Organisation revealed that the poor health of Maori women and children was 'right up there' internationally Inez, with close friend Dr Jacqueline Allen, lobbied for government funding to redress the shocking statistics. The result: the launch of Tipu Ora, the mother and child wellness programme, with Tunohopu its base and Inez at the helm.

Concerned in the mid 90's that there were only three Maori dentists practising in New Zealand Inez played a key role in establishing The Maori Dental Association. It's almost stating the obvious to say she was elected founding chairman. Dental students continue to spend time each year treating patients, without charge, at Tunohopu Health Centre.

Inez's expertise in all matters health regularly took her overseas to attend conferences and answer requests for help setting up similar systems. Dental scientists from Japan studying Maori children's teeth problems bonded so closely with Inez while in New Zealand they took her with them to Kenya.

It was his realisation that he could no longer care for Inez that prompted Pihopa to record her biography. "Rather than try and say all these words in a mouthful I thought 'ah ha' I'll write this [booklet] so people, our children included, can be enriched by preserving her name and vision for Maori to be healthy and educated."

He's done her - and himself - proud.


Footnote: Copies of INEZ- Life and times of Inez Haereata Kingi are available from the Tunohopu Health Centre


Born: Ohinemutu, 1931.

Education: Rotorua Primary, Rotorua High and Grammar School, Wellington Dental School.

Family: Husband Pihopa, sons Matapihi, Tanira, Guy, daughter Merania, 12 mokopuna, 4 great mokopuna.

Additional community involvement: JP, member Rotorua High Schools Board of Governors and Auckland Medical School's pre-selection committee, chaired national Maori Health Workforce committee and Rotorua Distinct Council's recreation and sports committees.Blurb1