Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Go to Te Ao Hou homepage
No. 57 (December 1966)
– 41 –


The magnitude of the contribution of the late Mr John Waititi to the advancement of his own people and to the wider community in which he played an active part has been brought more and more to notice as others endeavour to fill the gap left by his death.

He has been replaced on various organizations by other people who most fortunately are proving themselves competent and willing, but it is in the more informal aspects of effort for the Maori people that his loss is perhaps most keenly felt.

A measure of the breadth of his activity may be gauged by the fact that examination of his papers and records show that in the past five years he was a member of or was associated with the work of nearly 80 organizations. It is quite certain that there were many more, of which there was no record kept.

An indication of his enthusiasm and dedication to a cause in which he believed is given in records of the campaign to raise funds for the Maori Education Foundation of which he was co-chairman for the Auckland region.

During the height of the campaign in 1962, John delivered 96 speeches to raise funds and to explain the aims of the foundation. The ordinary man or woman who finds letter-writing an exacting duty may be excused for feeling somewhat awed by John's record of 450 letters answered during this period.

The Maori language was, of course, a ruling passion. Its study was one of his official duties but, as in most things he tackled, he brought to it more enthusiasm and deeper understanding than mere competency demanded.

Perhaps the most material records of his endeavours are his text books in the Rangatahi series, but in addition he was language tutor at one time or another at St Stephen's School. Queen Victoria School, Auckland University Department of University Extension, Ardmore Teachers' College, Palmerston North Teachers' College, Auckland Teachers' College and the Maori class at Auckland Prison.

He was chief examiner in Maori for the school certificate examination.

He found time—no one is quite sure how—to be a member of the Anthropology and Maori Race Section of the Auckland Institute with a term as president of that body, of the Inter-racial Committee, of the Auckland Regional Committee of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and of the University Maori Club of which he was president and then patron.

He was vice-president of the Police and Citizens Boystown Committee and a member of the Auckland Half-million Celebrations Committee.

When groups and organizations, particularly

– 42 –
– 43 –

in Auckland, wished to learn more about the Maori, past or present, John was the man to whom they turned first. The list of organizations which he addressed is far too lengthy to be included here but the topics on which he talked included the pre-European Maori, the history of racial relations, the history of Auckland, Maori scholastic attainments, university Maori students, understanding the Maori and the problems of Maori children at school.

By his knowledge, which was deep and liberal, and by his example and presence, he was widely regarded as one of the finest interpreters the Maori people have had of their history, problems and aspirations. He was certainly so regarded by his wide circle of Pakeha friends.

The Governor-General, Sir Bernard Fergusson, speaking at the opening of the Mangere marae, publicly acknowledged his own debt to John as an adviser on all aspects of Maoridom.

John has been called the initiator of the ‘back-to-school’ movement of Maori adults, many groups of whom attended evening classes and sat the school certificate examination. While this is probably so, John did not make such a claim himself, but rather preferred to think of himself as one who assisted a movement which sprang spontaneously from the people.

Nevertheless, it was his efforts at fanning the flame that brought it to the glow it did gain.

In this he was helped by his understanding of the processes of press and radio publicity and by his personal friendship with writers, photographers, journalists and radio men.

As a fund-raiser for worthy causes John's record is truly remarkable. His papers show that he was the organizer of money-raising efforts for the following people and organizations: Ruia Morrison, to assist her to take part in major tennis tournaments overseas; Walter Godfrey and Sherrill Chapman, golfers; Neti Davis, table tennis player; Kiri Te Kanawa, to enable her to continue singing studies abroad; Pat Hohepa, to help his study in the United States for a doctorate; Ralph Hotere, for arts studies overseas; Bill Tawhai, a Rotary scholar; the dependants of the Brynderwyn bus disaster; the Auckland Maori Catholic Society, for their new centre, and the Mangere marae.

And how many individuals and families who called on him for help in trouble and sorrow, no one will ever know. Only one thing is sure—no one ever sought John's help and did not get it.

Mention of the Auckland Maori Catholic Society brings to mind the broadness of John's conception of the nature and meaning of Christianity. A practising member of the Church of England himself, he would lend support to Church causes whatever their denomination if these were directed towards the welfare of the Maori people or even a small section of the people.

Thus officials and pupils at the Mormon Church College always greeted him with pleasure. Presbyterians and Methodists valued his worth while his own Church called on him on many occasions. One of these was the organization of the celebrations in late 1964 of the 150th anniversary of the first sermon preached in New Zealand by Samuel Marsden.

He was a sponsor of the Billy Graham evangelical movement's New Zealand section.

His records also show that he was a member of ‘Task Force’, a co-ordinated committee of representatives of the New Zealand Maori Council, the Maori Affairs and Education Departments, and the Maori Women's Welfare League, which was planned to help Maori communities in specific areas.

His work for Maoris in prison has never been matched and no one has gained their confidence or helped them before or since in the way he did. Many a man came out the gate of Auckland Prison to find John waiting for him to drive him home and to ease the first meeting with the family.

And the records contain also comments of people who met John in the course of his work, letters not so much to him but to others, which contain such comments as these:

‘In the realm of youth work John Waititi has no peer.’

‘He bubbles with enthusiasm and zest for living. He has the ability to spread this enthusiasm to others.’

‘He has great zeal accompanied by sound common sense and good judgement. He is respected by Maoris and Pakehas alike and he is at home in both cultures.’

These, then, are facets of the many-splendoured jewel which was the life of John Waititi. That the memory of them will not quickly fade, a campaign to raise funds for a memorial scholarship is now under way.

It is under the patronage of the president of the New Zealand Maori Council, Sir Turi Carroll, and the Dominion president of the Maori Women's Welfare League, Mrs R. Sage.

It is well worthy of the most generous support.