She was a teacher, a giver, a fundraiser, an entertainer, an author, a family woman - she was Rotorua royalty.

Aunty Bea – as everyone knew her – has died at the age of 78.

Beatrice Piatarihi Tui Yates (nee Grant) spent all of her life giving to others and raising money and awareness for several health causes – including one dear to her heart, the Cancer Society.

Read more: Opinion: Aunty Bea a true treasure who will be sorely missed
Aunty Bea Yates brought onto Takinga Marae for tangi


But it was her own recent cancer diagnosis which quickly took hold of her health. She died Thursday at her home surrounded by whānau and friends.

Born in Rotorua on September 11, 1939, Aunty Bea is a proud Te Arawa descendant born and raised in Mourea beside the Ohau Channel.

While most know her as the kapa haka queen oozing with personality and proudly displaying her Māori heritage, she was also proud of her Scottish, Irish and Fijian Indian ancestry.

Married to Albert Yates, together they had three children, the late Victor Yates, Hohepa Yates and Wahanga Yates-Wright. The couple also had 11 mokopuna (grandchildren) and 11 mokopuna tuarua (great grandchildren).

'Aunty' Bea Yates had a smile we won't forget. Photo / File
'Aunty' Bea Yates had a smile we won't forget. Photo / File

A teacher of more than 50 years around Rotorua, including her first 20 years at Rotokawa Primary School and most recently at Rotorua Lakes High School, she was among the first in the country to recognise the need for children to have a "full puku (stomach)" to be able to learn.

Long before government funding set up breakfast clubs in schools, Aunty Bea had a "soup kitchen" at Rotorua Lakes High School where she would personally prepare kai (food) including her famous rewena bread for hungry children.

Read more: Our People - 'Aunty' Bea Yates

In the 1970s, she was invited to become the first Māori itinerant teacher in Rotorua, introducing te reo to children in the city. In those days there were no teaching resources so she was expected to provide her own.


The well-known song One Day A Taniwha was just one of the many stories and songs she wrote and is still taught in schools today.

She went on to publish several children's books.

A natural kapa haka performer and regular singer at the Tudor Towers Nightclub in its heyday, a trip to New York with a kapa haka group about 40 years ago saw the start of her alter ego, Tina Tuna.

She was in a wig shop and tried on a big fluffy one, when the shop assistant told her she looked like Tina Turner. From there, she started a Kiwi-style impersonation show that took her around the country performing to hundreds of conferences groups and shows, including being a regular in Sir Howard Morrison's shows.

But the gigs were never to line her pocket. After each performance she would donate most of her fee to her favourite charities, including the Cancer Society.

A regular volunteer for events such as the Pink Walk and Relay For Life, Aunty Bea also set up Te Whakapono Trust after becoming saddened seeing whānau members having to travel to Waikato Hospital three times a week for dialysis treatment.

The trust established Rotorua's first dialysis unit, a chemotherapy unit, an accommodation unit at the hospital for loved ones to stay in and a mobile hearing clinic that visits country schools and marae.

Aunty Bea was involved helping the Māori Wardens for more than 20 years, she pounded the streets collecting for the Salvation Army, the Cancer Society, the SPCA, Red Cross, RSA, St John, Scouts, Guides and Cubs. She performed on telethons, served on Māori trusts, marae and sporting committees, was a volunteer worker for the Te Ngae Police Community Centre and a one-time candidate for New Zealand First.

At the time of her death she was a current serving Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust trustee, one of four new trustees elected in 2016.

Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust chairman Stuart Edward said the trust was "mortified" that she's gone and would miss her enormously.

"I was lucky enough to be in Rotorua hospital last week and to spend some quality time with her while I could.

"I was able to say to her, on behalf of RECT, how much we appreciated her contribution to all of the issues that went to the table. She had a wonderful wealth of experience."

Trevor Maxwell and 'Autny' Bea Yates have together welcomed thousands of visitors to Rotorua. Photo / File
Trevor Maxwell and 'Autny' Bea Yates have together welcomed thousands of visitors to Rotorua. Photo / File

He said he thanked her "fantastic contribution" to education and the lives of young people.

"I also had the chance to thank her on behalf of all the generations of children who had the opportunity to have her teaching but to have her love and support."

He said RECT would be reflecting on the "wonderful, unstinting contribution" she had made.

"She was there in so many guises throughout our city and has made an enormous contribution to the lifeblood of Rotorua."

A memory that would stick in his mind most was when then Prime Minister Helen Clark visited Rotorua Hospital to see the hard-fought for dialysis unit, he said.

"We were taking her on a tour of the hospital and suddenly out jumps Aunty Bea in full Tina Tuna regalia, singing Simply the Best.

"The Prime Minister was absolutely taken aback and it was a wonderful moment because Bea had been a prime driver of getting the dialysis unit."

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said she had called Helen Clark as soon as she heard the news.

"She sends her condolences and just remembers her so well for her fishnet tights and Tina Tuna wigs."

Chadwick had a friendship with Aunty Bea that spanned more than 40 years.

"She walked with us on so many of Rotorua's successes, a woman who led an incredibly full and wonderful life who was taken from us just as she was getting some time for herself."

She said Aunty Bea was a skilled teacher with an amazing love of children.

"That was her natural place in life and she wrote some beautiful books that she was very proud of.

"Whenever she finished a new book she would drop one off and say this is for your moko."

She said the thing she admired about her most was she was "fiercely loyal".

"She was proud of her values and she spoke them loudly.

"This is a huge loss for her family, but also for the wider community and I thank the Yates whānau for sharing this wonderful lady with all of us."

Rotorua's 'Aunty' Bea Yates is surprised by Mucking In television makeover presenter Jim Mora in 2005. Photo / File
Rotorua's 'Aunty' Bea Yates is surprised by Mucking In television makeover presenter Jim Mora in 2005. Photo / File

In 1993 her massive community involvement was acknowledged with a Queen's Service Medal. In 2005, television crews for the Mucking In show suprised her with garden makeover.

Good friend and fellow kapa haka performer Trevor Maxwell said they were part of what was known as "Te Arawa tautoko group" which would be called on to welcome any visitors or dignatories to the city. She even took on that role as a soloist at Rotorua Airport welcoming visitors arriving to the city on the direct flights from Sydney when it was operating.

"Any pohiri or welcome and she would be there to greet them."

He said a group of about a dozen kapa haka performers went to see her at her home on Monday morning one last time to say their goodbyes and sing some of their favourite songs.

"It saddened me to see someone who was so much alive with vibrant laughter struck down by that awful ngangara (bug) that is cancer.

"She gave so much, she really was just like the Mother Teresa of Rotorua. We are going to miss her dearly."

Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey has worked with Aunty Bea on a variety of projects throughout the years.

"Aunty Bea was the best example of manaakitanga to the world that Rotorua has ever had.

"She has left us too soon and like many in our community, both Māori and Pakeha, I am heartbroken that she is gone."

"Aunty Bea was an inspiration to me, as the tiny voice in my ear, always pushing me along with unconditional support. That encouragement was never exclusive though, as her passion for all rangatahi Māori was evident in the ventures she was involved in - from her mahi at Rotorua Lakes High, to her concert parties that she put so much into.

"Her work with charities was as legendary as her books, or her 'Tina Tuna', especially her efforts in regards to the Cancer Society.

"This mix of teacher, entertainer and humanitarian, meant she not only enriched and brightened the lives of those around her, but also extended the lives of many she never met. That is a true Te Arawa legacy."

Having served with Aunty Bea collectively on the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust, Coffey said he would always be inspired by her work. No board meeting took place without a karakia and a waiata at the start and the end. "Long may that tradition continue".

"There will never be another welcome to Rotorua like an 'Aunty Bea welcome', and I hope the sharing of these stories of warmth will help comfort the whanau pani, as our thoughts go with them," Coffey said.

Sir Toby Curtis was speechless when he heard the news.

"All of Te Arawa and much of Māoridom will be feeling such a sad and deep loss.

"She was a person that succeeded in attracting the support and goodwill of people, but also the hearts and souls of those who came to know her."

He said Aunty Bea would be remembered for her contribution to the Rotorua community.

"In terms of music and also her personality which made everyone feel comfortable and relaxed and very happy to just be in her presence."

John Naera worked closely with Aunty Bea on the Te Whakapono Health Trust and said while she never wanted to take the accolades, she was the energy behind everybody "to ensure they succeeded".

"The thing with Aunty Bea is across a lot of the community, whether that was a fundraiser or the trusts, she was always at the heart of it.

"She was always there for the right reasons and really to make a difference."

Tina Tuna aka 'Aunty' Bea Yates during the TVNZ Breakfast Show filming at the Rotorua Musuem in 2007. Photo / File
Tina Tuna aka 'Aunty' Bea Yates during the TVNZ Breakfast Show filming at the Rotorua Musuem in 2007. Photo / File

He said there would be a community mourning for a woman who had landed in the hearts of so many.

Entertainer, tutor and former student Turanga Merito described her as an icon ahead of her time.

"She was not only my favourite teacher of all time, but she was a shoulder to cry on, a warm hug to cheer you up when you were low and an unapologetic fierce queen who inspired my generation to reach for the stars.

"Her spirit will resonate with me forever whether it was her cheeky banter in-between her Tina Tuna sets, her impeccable rewana bread, or her corned beef mixture.

He said he would miss her terribly and work his hardest to try and be half the teacher she was.

Fellow musician and Rotorua Rockshop manager Richard Anaru said she was always a "beautiful and caring person".

"She always came in to see us and we would do her ukuleles.

"She was always so lovely to deal with and never had a bad word to say about anybody."

Krissy Knap said Aunty Bea was an entertainer beyond words who bought so much joy to so many people on and off the stage.

"There is only one Aunty Bea, who shines like a diamond in the sky.

"I'm humbled to have had her in my life as my inspiration of true entertaining 'you're simply the best' Aunty Bea, I love you always."

Ngāti Whakaue kaumatua Monty Morrison said he was almost lost for words, but Aunty Bea was "tremendous".

"I've worked with her for many years and got to know her as a performer, a cultural ambassador and more recently with our work on the Ngāti Whakaue Education Endowment Trust.

"We are going to certainly miss her energy, her sense of enthusiasm and her commitment to the children."

He said she would be a great loss to the education community which she had served so well over the years.

"She used her profile and her energy to help raise funds for so many important causes."

She will be taken to Takinga Marae for her tangi.

The funeral service will be at 10am Sunday September 9.

Beatrice Tui Louise Yates (MNZM, QSM, JP)

September 11 1939 - September 6 2018

Kua tō ngā rā ki runga i a koe e kui
Kuia rōreka, Kuia ngahau
Kuia aroha nuitia e tōna rahi, tōna iti
Mahue pouri a Pikiao me Te Arawa whānui
Kua oti tāu i te whenua
Hoatu whakaoti tāu ki te rangi

Pikiao, Te Arawa maranga mai
Kua karangahia tātau e tō tātau kuia ki Te Takinga
Mā karanga, mā kōrero, mā waiata, mā haka, mā hupe, mā roimata e whakamaumahara, e poroporoāki i a ia ki tōna tupuna whare
Beatrice Tui Louise Yates e moe e kui.

Loving wife of Albert Yates (for 55 years), mother of Victor Yates, Hohepa Yates and Wahanga-a-Rangi Yates Wright, grandmother of Arapeta, Pumahu, Tui, Tiare, Teldyn, Rehara, Brittney, Shaquille, Ralyando, Zaviah and Wahanga-a-Rangi, great grandmother of Tuari, Akuiira, Amiria, Hohepa, Riana, Piatarihi, Hadassah, Balmain, Robert, Waipunarangi and Aquila-Rose.

Beatrice will lay at home tonight. Albert has asked only immediate whānau at the house tonight please. Their children and mokopuna only.