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Sir Wira Gardiner, veteran and dedicated public servant, dies aged 78


Sir Wira Gardiner has died, aged 78.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Sir Wira Gardiner has died, aged 78.

Decorated Māori leader and dedicated public servant Sir Wira Gardiner has died, aged 78.

A descendant of Ngāti Awa, Te Whakatōhea, Whānau-a-Apanui and Ngāti Pikiao, Gardiner was a highly respected leader who had made significant contributions to Government, iwi and served in the New Zealand army in Vietnam.

He had been ill for some time. His whānau and wife, former education minister Hekia Parata, announced his death late on Thursday in a statement.

He died with his family, at home in Gisborne.

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In the statement, his whānau said he had been “dedicated to the nation of Aotearoa New Zealand and faithful to the Maori people ahakoa he aha”.

”In accordance with his express wish that public health be prioritised, and the demands on frontline workers be recognised, there will be no tangihanga for Wira at the marae,” they said.

“We thank the people in the public health system in Waikato, Tauranga, Whakatāne and Gisborne for their care and support these past eight months.”

Sir Wira Gardiner was the acting secretary for children until he stepped down in October due to illness.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Sir Wira Gardiner was the acting secretary for children until he stepped down in October due to illness.

He had been the founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal and the first chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri.

Most recently, he had served as acting chief executive of Oranga Tamariki.

He stepped down in October, after taking more than a month of medical leave.

He took the role in February, after the agency faced heavy scrutiny for its controversial practice of “uplifting” predominantly Māori infants.

In 2009, Gardiner was made a Knight of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori.

He achieved the rank of lieutenant-colonel, after 20 years of service to the army.

Matthew Tukaki, chairman of the Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board, said it was hard to summarise just how large an impact Gardiner had made.

Sir Wira Gardiner was “a man taller than the sky”, said Matthew Tukaki, chairman of the Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board.

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Sir Wira Gardiner was “a man taller than the sky”, said Matthew Tukaki, chairman of the Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board.

“For me Sir Wira wasn’t simply a soldier or leader of men, he was a change agent, a servant of the people and someone who made a real difference in Te Ao Māori and Te Ao Pākehā,” he said.

He remembered him as “a man taller than the sky”.

Outside of Government, Gardiner was an author and historian. He published books on the Māori battalion, race relations in New Zealand, the “fiscal envelope”, and the art form of haka.

He grew up in Whakatāne, before attending the University of Canterbury and King’s College London.

The whānau statement said there would be no tangi, for public health reasons. A memoriam service was expected to be held at a later date.

He was a father of five children, Jeremy and Amy, Ainsley, James, Rakaitemania and Shannon, Mihimaraea, and koro to eight mokopuna.



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