St Columba Church in Grey Lynn farewelled one of its kaumatua with great sadness in late June.
Tevita Latu died at his home in Mangawhai, surrounded by his family. This was the place to which he and his wife, Maralynne, retired in 2016, exchanging the busyness of the city life – and his 26-year career as a senior practitioner with Child Youth and Family and a long-serving vestry member of St. Columba - for the freedom of beach life and the fishing which he enjoyed until his final days.
Tevita Naikaki Latu was born in Hihifo, Tonga in 1950. He attended St Andrew High School and after graduating began working for Nuku’alofa Port Customs. In 1973 his mother agreed to let him migrate to New Zealand to help provide a better life for his family back home.
Tevita arrived in NZ and began work in Grey Lynn. Within two years, he had met the love of his life, Maralynne Esta Bigham, and they were soon married. Their partnership was to bring many blessings to their family, church and the local community.
The Latus settled in Grey Lynn where their children - Heather, Tevita Jr and Emma - were born. Their first home in Sussex Street was the family home for 37 years. There was only one policy in the Latus’ house – that there would always be an open door and open hearts to all who came there. It’s because of this generous hospitality that many young people, friends and families still call Sussex Street, and now Mangawhai, ‘home’.
In 1988 Tevita began studying for specialised social work. He was known for his selfless care for the next generation, and his ability to recognise and unearth the potential that lay beneath the surface, and he was constantly on the look-out for the leaders of tomorrow. He helped write youth law legislation, provided wise counsel for many young people during difficult times, and supported and encouraged many youth leaders into ministry training.
His humble, non-judgmental Tongan approach meant he could connect to and support individuals and families toward their own preferences for change. He actively advocated for young people in the church as a youth leader and in his work as a social worker, seeing with his big Tongan heart what others didn't. He was a mentor of many and encouraged them to aim high and look beyond what they could see.
Tevita’s long-held vision of a camp for young people was still on his mind during his final days: he saw Mangawhai as a place where a camp could take place. Learning to catch, prepare and cook fish, enjoying the moana and God’s creation were just a sample of the ideas he had.
Now the ‘Camp Tevita’ dream is for others to bring to fruition to honour his life’s work of affirming and guiding young people. Tevita’s legacy will live on in the community he inspired and through his love for all people, particularly the young. Tevita made a lasting and significant contribution both to the church and the wider local community. He will be missed by many.
Faka-malo atu mei he uitou Marilyn Latu, fanau moe fanga mokopuna kihe famili,kainga,moe maheni ho tau komiuniti 'i Grey Lynn,'ofa atu malo pea malo e lotu moe manatu 'ofa malo.
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