Papa'ali'itele Dr Semisi Ma’ia’i (left) with former Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, being made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

“A pioneer, preparing the way for others – often with difficulty, but always with optimism, determination, and love.”

That’s how Dr Colin Tukuitonga described the late Papa’ali’itele Dr. Semisi Ma’ia’i, at a funeral service for the accomplished Sāmoan GP and College Fellow last Friday.

“Semisi was hugely concerned for people with no access to health care. He was an advocate for Pasifika health success, and for training more Pasifika health workers,” said Dr Tukuitonga.

In 2011, Dr. Ma'ia'i was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the Sāmoan community.

Originally trained at the Fiji School of Medicine, Dr Ma’ia’i worked as a GP in the Auckland area for more than 40 years. For much of this time, he was the area’s only Sāmoan GP.

Before taking over a practice in Kumeu in the 1970s, Dr Ma’ia’i had to retrain as a doctor in New Zealand, eventually graduating from Otago School of Medicine in 1962.

Attendees at Friday’s ceremony related how his considerable experience as a hospital doctor in Sāmoa and as the sole-charge doctor in Tokelau wasn’t recognised when he first arrived in New Zealand.

“That he would retake courses to gain access to medical school, with no recognition of his previous experience... It takes a truly humble and special person to do this,” said his brother-in-law Alistair Hutchison.

The late doctor’s son, Dr Kim Ma’ia’i, reflected on his father’s love for education and learning, and described him as a fastidious writer and academic.

“My father had a roving intellect. His mind was fed by ideas – not material things,” he said.

Dr Ma’ia’i authored several publications in his lifetime, including the first ever bilingual Sāmoan-English dictionary, Tusi’upu Sāmoa. He also wrote a bilingual Sāmoan-English medical dictionary, and an autobiography, Samoan Odyssey: A Life Story.

Representatives from the Health Promotion Agency, Pasifika Medical Association, SeniorNet and the College’s Pacific Chapter were present to pay their respects on Friday.