One of the last, and certainly one of the most successful of Maoridom's fading generation of illiterate elders, Rotoiti's Sam Emery will be remembered as the man who did the impossible.
Without a single day of schooling, and though unable to read or write a line of print, he became a leader in business, an administrator, and an official on numerous Maori incorporations and committees. Born to poverty, he rose from the ranks of roadmen and gum diggers to high finance.
Perhaps his greatest attribute was thought for his people at a time when many lesser men would have been obsessed with enjoyment of the fruits of their success in life.
Sam was born in the Maori settlement of Kakepuku, near Te Awamutu, in 1885. Times were so tough as a youngster that he got hungry enough to suck milk out of his uncle's cow a few hours before milking time—at the risk of a heavily clipped ear.
He ran away from home at 12, launched his first business on the Coromandel gum diggings at 16, and opened a shop at Rotoiti at the age of 26. His capital came from navvying on the roads, gum digging and planting trees for the forestry.
Success came to Sam in his thirties. He became a transport operator, launch owner and timber miller. He pioneered motor transport.
He became a farmer, and encouraged his people to do likewise, playing a leading role in the development of the wealthy incorporations in the Rotoiti district today. He was a staunch supporter of Sir Apirana Ngata's early land schemes, submitting two areas for development under the schemes.
He became a county councillor, serving Rotorua County for 18 years, and winning a name as an able, fair and devoted councillor, widely respected by Maori and Pakeha alike.
With all his involvement in public life, committees, meetings and business deals, Sam Emery was never too busy to forget his people. He took a leading part in the financing and construction of five meeting houses, including one at his birthplace for the Ngati-Kahu.