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Mourners pay tribute to Sir Peter Tapsell

Published: 1:25PM Saturday April 07, 2012 Source: ONE News

The multiple talents of Sir Peter Tapsell, who died in his sleep Thurday night, have been saluted by friends and even political foes.

A tangi has been held today at Maketu Marae in the Bay of Plenty to farewell Sir Peter, who died aged 82 after a career that included being a Maori All Black, an orthopaedic surgeon and the first Maori Speaker of the House.

Sir Peter, who was born and raised in Rotorua, studied medicine at Otago University, where he flatted with long-time friend and political journalist Ian Templeton.

"He knocked all our preconceptions about Maoridom," Templeton told ONE News.

"He used to say that 'all you Europeans are just peasants anyway,' but he set a really high standard in many ways.

"He wanted to serve his people basically."

Sir Peter was a keen sportsman, playing rugby for university, then Otago and the Maori All Blacks.

But he was best-known for his political career, entering Parliament in 1981 for the Labour Party.

He remained an MP until 1996, serving as Internal Affairs Minister, Arts Minister, Police Minister and Defence Minister at various stages of his career.

He was vocal about Maori affairs and wanted te reo to be made compulsory in schools.

In 1993 he became Speaker of the House, the first Maori in the role.

He was speaker as an opposition MP because the National Government did not have a big enough majority.

Sir Peter received an honorary doctorate from Waikato University and was knighted in 1997.

Tributes pour in

Acting Prime Minister Bill English said Sir Peter was a respected MP, who was a positive influence during a tense period of adjustment in Parliament.

Sir Peter was Speaker at a time when New Zealand was transitioning from the first past the post-style election to MMP. 

"I was saddened to learn of Sir Peter's death and my thoughts are with his family at this time," English said.

"He was respected by MPs across the political spectrum for his independent, thoughtful and direct style."

Labour's Maori affairs spokesperson Parekura Horomia honoured Sir Peter's contribution to Maori affairs.

Horomia said Sir Peter would be sorely missed for his expertise in a variety of fields including medicine and politics. 

"Sir Peter served Eastern Maori with great mana for a number of years and is fondly remembered my Labour MPs past and present.

"Our thoughts are with his whanau and friends as they farewell a great man,"

Since his retirement in 1996, Sir Peter was actively involved in a number of organisations, including the Patron of Monarchy New Zealand.   

Chair of Monarchy New Zealand Dr Sean Palmer said New Zealand has lost an eminent public figure. 

"One of the highlights of his career as Speaker was hosting the Queen at Parliament in 1995, when she formally opened the Parliament Buildings," Palmer said.
"Monarchy New Zealand valued his advice, support, and encouragement over the years.  He will be missed."

He leaves behind two sons and two daughters.