A big man with a big heart and a massive legacy; Whakahawera Rere Kite Pakanga Kerr's more than two decades of service have made him a cherished member of the Tūranga Health team.
Known as Libby – after his uncle was wounded in Libya on the day of his birth in 1941 – he’s been with Tūranga Health from its early days and chief executive Reweti Ropiha says he made his mark right from the start.
“Libby was first at Tūranga Health as someone who could work with older males,” says Reweti, who in 1999 convinced Libby to be kaumātua for the fledgling health organisation. “He was someone they could walk their health journey alongside, someone who could be a confidant and give tāne confidence.”
Libby (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Porou, Rongowhakaata, Ngai Tamanuhiri, Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki and Tūhoe) spent much of his working life at the freezing works but by the time he joined Tūranga Health, he’d already spent a dozen years forming views on shortcomings in the health system.
In 1985 he’d become a security guard at New Zealand's newest health facility, Gisborne Hospital, where he saw things both good and bad.
On the “good” side, he enjoyed spending time in Ward 11, talking and interacting with mental health patients. On the “bad”, he often felt tangata whaiora were not treated with the care and consideration they deserved.
With that as his driving force, Libby's redundancy some years later was turned into a positive when he used his experiences to work with the Health and Disability Commission.
Then he joined Tūranga Health where, as well as serving as kaumātua, he spent six years overseeing the Vanessa Lowndes Centre for whānau with physical and/or mental health issues.
And throughout the years he’s been a passionate family man . . . he and his wife of more than 50 years, Mereaira, have eight children, 12 grandchildren, and a growing number of great-grandchildren.
During that time Libby has had his own health problems but Tūranga Health chair Pene Brown says that has not stopped him from making a huge contribution to his community. “His knowledge of people and who their families are, is immense. This aspect is of enormous help to all his Tūranga Health colleagues and especially, Reweti.”
Reweti says Libby opened doors “and gave confidence back to whānau who’d previously had a bad experience in health.”
“And he has always been very comfortable in any setting . . . when then-Prime Minister Helen Clark came here once, Libby was the only person she knew.”
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