Family mourn former prime minister in Rarotonga

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

The last surviving sibling of Dr Joe Williams, Manuae Williams shared childhood memories of her brother at a family memorial service held at Marsters House in Rarotonga. 

Manuae said he was a “very gentle boy, and very humble, and very generous.”

“He maintained those qualities until he died,” she says, “He’d do anything for anybody.”

Cook Islands Queen's Representative Sir Tom Marsters speaks fondly of his good friend and relation, saying he loved everybody and everybody loved Joe. 

“And I think that’s the way everybody will remember him, that he was a generous person, he had a generous heart," Marsters said. 'He was never short of giving his time to families and friends. A father figure, a person of the family.”

Reluctant scholar

Williams became the dux of Northland College, although he was initially reluctant to leave his home of Aitutaki, where he was born in 1934 to go to school.

“When the news came that he was chosen with our cousin to go to New Zealand he didn’t want to go,” Manuae said. 

“He cried and cried. And he begged my father to take his name off the scholarship.”

However, Dr Williams made significant changes on his return to the Cook Islands in 1964 as medical superintendent, surgeon, physician and also the director of health and social services.

“Since the 1950s our doctors were called  AMOs, assistant medical officers,” Norman George, the president of the Cook Islands Former Ministers Association, said.

“They weren't given the title of doctor by the colonial power. They were graded as senior male nurses.

Colonialism dumped

“But when Uncle Joe landed here he wasn’t going to take that nonsense anymore, so all the AMOs were converted into real doctors,” George said.

Three Cook Islands sons, who died within days of each other, were remembered last night. 

Dr Williams died on Thursday night in Auckland from Covid 19, his elder brother Papa Tamaariki (Tuaine) Williams in Australia the day before, and former Cook Islands minister Nandi Glassie.

“You all know that I have lost two precious brothers of mine in one go, and it is very hard, very painful,” Manuae said.

Since Joe Williams' last week, Prime Minister Henry Puna has directed that flags at government buildings fly at half-mast as a sign of respect for Dr Williams and to remain so until after his national memorial service.

“Dr Joe - or just Papa Joe to many, embodied everything a Cook Islander could aspire to be, all that could be achieved, with all the success that was possible, by working tirelessly in the service of others,” Puna said.

“An unrelenting service to his people, and an unwavering dedication to their welfare. He pushed himself constantly to find new and better ways for us to live healthier lives, and ultimately gave his own life to it.”

The national memorial service is expected to take place this Friday (local time).