Community Advocate, Fa'anana Efeso Collins. Image;
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By Eleisha Foon, RNZ Pacific journalist

Fa’anānā Efeso Collins is being remembered as a pillar of the Pacific community with a “big heart of service”, who loved being a husband and father.

The 49-year-old Samoan-Tokelauan leader and Greens MP has been described as someone who embodied the Samoan proverb: “o le ala i le pule o le tautua” — the pathway to leadership is through service.

Prominent leaders say Fa’anānā was “a strong community advocate”, known for serving disadvantaged communities.

A beloved father, husband, brother and friend, Fa’anānā died suddenly in Auckland yesterday afternoon and leaves behind a strong legacy of service as someone whose mission was helping the poor.

Health leader Sir Collin Tukuitonga said his death sent shock waves across the region, especially in the heart of South Auckland, where he grew up and had spent most of his time serving others.

“Shocking is an understatement. He was on the same mission as the rest of us [Pacific leaders]. A good man. Good community values. It’s absolutely devastating for his family, for the Pasifika community, for NZ and beyond.

“Efeso was a rare person. The Pasifika community is not well endowed with community leaders like Efeso – ethical, strong, community-minded.”

‘Stand out community leader’
Tukuitonga noted Fa’anānā’s contribution to students when he became the first Polynesian president of the Auckland University Students’ Association in the late 1990s.

“He did a lot at university for students, for local government. He was a stand-out community leader. A number of us were hopeful he would also have an impact at national Parliament, no doubt his legacy will live on in many of the things he had supported.”

National candidate and longtime friend Fonoti Agnes Loheni said he was “a very special person”.

“I am grateful for our friendship. His faith in God made him strong. He was a very fearless and fierce voice for the poor. He had a big heart of service. He was not only an advocate but also a man of action,” she said.

Loheni acknowledged his family, wife and two girls, saying just last week they had connected during his induction into Parliament and he shared with her just how much he loved his family.

“He was catching me up on his wife and his daughter. That was it for him, being a husband and a father were the main roles for him. The most important.”

Loss felt across region
Former minister for Pacific peoples Aupito William Sio said the loss was being felt across the region.

Tonga’s Princess also paid tribute online.

“It was no mystery to any of us in the islands how loved he was by many of our Pasifika community in New Zealand.”

Aupito William Sio
Aupito William Sio . . . “His [Fa’anānā’s] profile reached the four corners of the Pacific region.” Image: Johnny Blades / VNP

Sio said: “His [Fa’anānā’s] profile reached the four corners of the Pacific region. He was getting support from overseas when he ran for mayor. He gave everybody the belief that anybody can achieve the highest office in NZ society. Even though he didn’t win it he got major endorsements from two political parties and made everyone hopeful of the future.”

Sio said Fa’anānā was always speaking truth to power, recalling the night of his swearing-in as an Auckland councillor.

“He confronted racism and discrimination in the council. I think he made everyone uncomfortable and made them reflect on their behaviours. I think he was fearless, he woke everybody up. It enabled the next generation to build some confidence in who they were.”

Friends and colleagues of Fa’anānā have told RNZ Pacific their thoughts were with his family, wife and children.

‘He was always there to help’
Hana Schmidt, a director of Papatoetoe-based, Pasifika-led creative agency Bluwave, counted Fa’anānā as one of her mentors and supporters.

She told RNZ Nights that a lot of young people were able to relate to him and speak to him, because he could relate to their experiences growing up in South Auckland

“He was an awesome person gave a lot of guidance to those in south Auckland who are in the community space, and also the business space and the governance space.”

She said he was always there to help, and wasn’t always wearing his political hat

“He would rather have genuine connections with the youth that he did come into contact with, the conversations were very genuine and close to heart.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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