29 Feb 2024

Fa’anānā Efeso Collins: Leader was an 'extraordinary man', widow says at funeral

4:12 pm on 29 February 2024

Vasa Fia Collins, supported by her daughters, pays tribute to Fa'anānā Efeso Collins at his funeral at the Due Drop Events Centre. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

The late Green Party MP Fa'anānā Efeso Collins has been remembered by his widow as an "extraordinary man" at a service in South Auckland.

The 49-year-old husband and father-of-two died on 21 February after collapsing during a charity event in Auckland's central city.

Fa'anānā's unexpected death came as a shock to many, with his aiga - including wife Fia and daughters Kaperiela and Asalemo - saying he was "the anchor of our tight-knit family".

Politicians and members of the public, including school students, were among those attending Fa'anānā's funeral at Due Drop Event Centre in Manukau on Thursday afternoon.

Many of the guests were dressed in traditional Pacific clothing, and a gospel choir sang as the crowd filled the room.

Fa'anānā's wife and daughters were described as his "constant bullseye". Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

To start the service, poet Karlo Mila read a poem that finished: "You become the ancestor we always knew you were."

Family spokesman Taito Eddie Tuiavii then gave a formal greeting in Samoan, paying tribute to Fa'anānā and his villages.

He described Fa'anānā as "larger than life".

It was an "indescribable feeling" to mourn the loss of "our champion", Tuiavii said.

Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

Fa'anānā's sisters took the stage to share stories from his life.

As a child, Fa'anānā was known as 'Boppa', his sister Jemima said. He loved playing and watching cricket.

"We didn't have much growing up in Ōtara, but we were raised with an abundance of love, and that made us pretty rich."

Fa'anānā preferred watching the TV news to children's programmes and loved trivia.

He attended Auckland Grammar School for just two weeks, before deciding to leave due to "racist comments", his sister said. He then transferred to "the mighty" Tangaroa College before going on to Auckland University.

Mourners embrace at the Due Drop Events Centre. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

Fa'anānā always had "a deep friendship with Jesus", the crowd heard.

"Efeso was able to reach so many people because of his relationship with Jesus."

Jemima signed off by saying: "Manuia lau malaga (rest in peace), Boppa. Until we meet in the clouds."

Another of Fa'anānā's sisters, Millie Collins, described her brother as "our family's golden boy".

"He was my mum and dad's sunshine, and to his brothers and sisters, his cousins and friends, he was our superstar."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

He was always helping out his extended family, Millie Collins said.

"[He was] born to impact the world, born to lead through service. A visionary, a loving, honorable son, husband, father, brother, cousin, nephew and friend."

Dickie Humphries, who has known Fa'anānā since they attended Auckland University, addressed his friend's widow directly, saying he was heartbroken that they had been parted.

"This is not what our friend wanted for you. He wanted to love you through a long life," he told Fia.

However, he was also happy Fa'anānā had found "his best friend, his greatest champion", he said.

Te Pāti Māori co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

Fa'anānā's legacy had showed him "we must live big lives", Humphries said.

"Lives of service, lives that leave this world better for having been in it. Lives that make right on the legacy of Efeso."

He said all gathered there must keep working towards a better Aotearoa - one where Pasifika people did not die young, or face racist abuse while in Parliament.

Humphries remembered his friend as someone with "an inquiring mind and a curious heart".

"He had an unwavering belief in the brilliance of our people."

The Green Party's seats at Parliament are empty on 29 February as they attend the funeral of Efeso Collins.

The Green Party's seats in Parliament were empty on Thursday as all 15 MPs attended their colleague's funeral. Photo: RNZ/Angus Dreaver

Among the people at the funeral were Green Party co-leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, Labour leader Chris Hipkins, and National's Gerry Brownlee, Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown, Te Pāti Māori co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi.

Fa'anānā's wife and daughters were wearing the dresses they wore at Parliament earlier this month, when Fa'anānā gave his maiden speech as an MP.

Like Humphries, Davidson addressed Fia directly in her speech, saying Fa'anānā valued her opinion above all else.

"He lived for the power of Pacific women."

Family was his "constant bullseye", Davidson said.

Green Party co-leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw and Labour leader Chris Hipkins in the crowd at Fa'anānā Efeso Collins' funeral. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

She promised the Green Party would wrap their arms around their colleague's family for their whole lives. All 15 Green MPs were at the funeral.

The party would also continue his legacy of fighting for the self-determination and wellbeing of Pasifika people, Davidson said.

"My friend, my brother Fes. What I wouldn't give to hug you close and long right now, even just one more time. You beautiful man. I love you always."

In his speech, Fa'anānā's friend Te'o Harry Fatu Toleafoa said the MP was kind to everyone, "whether you're Christopher Luxon in the Koru Lounge or the cleaner".

Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

"He treated absolutely everybody with value, dignity, respect and he made them feel special."

Te'o also paid tribute to the next generation of leaders following in Fa'anānā's footsteps.

"He was the best of us ... but if you think Fes is the best, wait 'til the next generation comes up."

Te'o mentioned the death threats Fa'anānā received in his role as a public servant, before addressing his daughters directly: "Thank you for giving us your dad, even though we didn't deserve him."

Pasifika journalist Indira Stewart also talked about the difficulties Fa'anānā faced while running for and serving in office.

Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

He received racist hate mail and a bomb threat was made to the home he shared with his wife and daughters.

Fa'anānā was "one of the finest leaders of our generation", she said.

"We are so proud of the legacy you leave behind for the next generation of Pasifika."

Samoan singer-songwriter Annie Grace and South Auckland duo Adeaze also performed hymns during the service.

Fa'anānā's widow Vasa Fia Collins was the last speaker and took the stage with her daughters beside her.

She introduced herself by saying: "I am an ordinary woman who married an extraordinary man."

Fa'anānā was "born to lead", she said.

"If you knew him, you'd know that he always tried to discreetly enter spaces and sit at the back. But how can you miss a man who's 6'4 with a booming voice and a beautiful big smile?"

He was also a doting father, taking their daughters to school, teaching them how to pray and "feeding them ice cream when I wasn't looking", she said.

"He treated me like a queen, every single moment we were together ... a true gentleman, always serving our needs before his own."

Fa'anānā had a great capacity for the "square pegs" in society - those who did not fit in, she said.

He valued the knowledge of his Pasifika ancestors and always mentored and love young people, she said.

"Fes died serving others. He has finished his leg of the race and the baton is now firmly in our hands.

"Please don't let all that he did, all his hard work - blood, sweat and tears - be for nothing."

Fa'anānā's sisters in the crowd. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

Fa'anānā was charismatic, humble and wise, she said. He saw the potential in others and made them better people.

"[He] never stopped encouraging people to rise, to aim high, to be the best version of themselves ... he was the very best of us."

Vasa told her daughters she was proud of them: "Daddy would be, too."

Fa'anānā was the family's "warrior" and protector, she said, and now he was their "eternal Valentine".

"I'm so grateful for the life that we built together. But I trust and know that Fes is in the presence of God."

Vasa finished her speech by singing a Samoan hymn.

Fa'anānā would be laid to rest privately after his casket was driven through Ōtara and Ōtāhuhu one last time.

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