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A tribute to Putiputi O’Brien

Whaea Putiputi O’Brien, 2006

Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa, NZNO pay tribute to Putiputi O’Brien

Auē! We mourn the passing of our Aunty Putiputi.

Putiputi O’Brien, Ngāti Awa, Te Arawa and Tūhoe graduated from the Waikato Hospital School of Nursing in 1945 and worked in hospitals in Rotorua until she became a public health nurse in 1948.

In 1981 she went to work for Midlands Health as a district community health coordinator and managed the Ngāti Awa ki Rangitaiki health initiative.

Putiputi O’Brien was awarded a Queen’s Service Order for services to nursing and her community in 1987.

In 2002 Te Rūnanga o Aoteroa, NZNO were proud to present the Akenehi Hei award to Whaea O’Brien for her services to Māori and nursing.

Putiputi O’Brien said of her work in rural Te Teko, where the only mode of travel was by horseback, “In those areas you were a jack of all trades, as you were the nurse, the doctor and a midwife”.

In her long and varied career she was a wonderful and passionate role model. She described herself as “a bridge between two worlds; Māori and non-Māori.”

We pay tribute to Putiputi O’Brien and honour her outstanding Māori leadership. Whaea Putiputi has worked tirelessly to improve the health and wellbeing of our people.

As a recipient of our most prestigious award Putiputi was acknowledged and admired by her peers for maintaining the integrity and values of manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga and wairuatanga as she went about fulfilling her vision of building a strong and resilient Maori workforce, in what were challenging times.

There is a Māori proverb that goes “Kua hinga te totara i te wao nui a Tane. The totara has fallen in the forest of Tane”. Although we have lost a mighty totara and wahine toa, we take comfort from her vision that has inspired many – young and old, Māori and non-Māori.

There are many who follow in her footsteps and who will ensure her dream continues, they will grow into the new Māori leaders and Whaea Putiputi O’Brien will remain in our hearts.