Cook Islanders across the world continue to mourn the loss of their former prime minister and doctor Joseph Williams.
A memorial service held in Auckland yesterday was attended by hundreds of Cook Islanders and others who came together to celebrate the life of Dr Williams.
Aucklanders today farewell Dr Joe Williams | With restrictions eased, a public memorial service and community celebration of Dr Williams' life is being held at Manukau this afternoon.— RNZ Pacific (@RNZPacific) October 29, 2020
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The 85-year-old died on 4 September of Covid-19 in Auckland where he had been working as a physician. His older brother Tuaine had passed away in Australia a day before.
Dr Williams was buried at a small, private service under alert level two restrictions last month.
He was hailed as a national hero during a state memorial service in Rarotonga.
Tributes have since flowed for Dr Williams MBChB, MPH, QSM, QSO who dedicated his life to serving his country and the Pacific community in Aotearoa New Zealand for more than 60 years.
Beautiful performances, a tearful goodbye and celebration of a legacy of greatness
At the Auckland memorial service a Tūrou chant (Akatomoanga Warrior - Love Inangaro) kick-started the proceedings, followed by the Imene Reo Metua hymn Kia aruru te enua katoa.
There were prayers, lots of them, and there was even the familiar sounds of the Cook Islands anthem Te Atua Mou E ringing across the Vodafone Events Centre at Manukau.
Cook Islands High Commissioner to New Zealand Elizabeth Wright-Koteka said Dr Williams - or Papa Joe as he was fondly called - was an "extraordinary man".
He was the chosen one, she said.
"A young, highly educated professional that was destined for great things.
"A knowledge seeker who was willing to teach, keen to impart the benefits of his learning.
"A healer with the heart to listen and to understand."
Wright-Koteka said Dr Williams' love and service to the people put him in the company of the Pacific's national heroes.
He left behind a legacy unrivalled and unequalled, she said.
"Dr Joe had a remarkable career of many highlights but it was the essence of a man who cared and wanted to serve people that puts him in the company of our national heroes."
The New Zealand government said Dr Williams was a "nation-building giant" who loved his people.
The minister for pacific peoples, Aupito William Sio, said Dr Williams helped shape the Cook Islands into a nation that its children could be proud of.
Aupito said it was fitting and appropriate to use the Māori Whakatauki proverb to describe the life of Dr Williams.
"Kua hinga te tōtara o Te Waonui a Tāne (the tōtara has fallen in the forest of Tāne) is an appropriate proverb to describe the life and death of Dr Joe Williams.
"A totara tree is a special tree and belongs to the chiefly trees or rakau rangatira.
"He was a giant of a man. Dr Joe Williams alongside others like Albert Henry, Geoffrey Henry, Terepai Maoate, Robert Woonton and those who followed after are the kind of nation-building giants who loved the people of the Cook Islands."
Other tributes came from Auckland Council's Alf Filipaina, Alfred Ngaro of the Cook Islands Development Agency in NZ (CIDANZ), Dr Robert Woonton, and executives from the Pasifika Medical Association Debbie Sorensen and Dr Kiki Maoate.
But the strongest accolades came from his daughter, Joana Williams, who brought those gathered to tears in an emotional tribute to her father.
Williams said there weren't enough words to describe her "incredible" father. According to her, the family was still coming to grips with his loss.
But she said the messages from around the world had been of great comfort to the family.
Following the service, there was much feasting and dancing. The crowd was treated to outstanding Pacific Islands cultural performances.
One dancer said while she did not get the opportunity to meet Dr Williams, she was proud to honour him by taking part in the performances.
She said his legacy would continue to live on in his beloved people of the Cook Islands.