John, who had been ill for some time, died on Christmas Day aged 67. He had taught Māori language and customs at certificate level at EIT for more than 20 years – up until December.
The honorary degree, conferred at Te Ūranga Waka’s end-of-year marae graduation, was only the second awarded by EIT. It marked the high regard in which John was held.
Making the presentation, former deputy chief executive Claire Hague said John was expert in te reo me ngā tikanga Māori.
“He made a huge contribution to students and the community.”
John was proud to have two of his mokopuna graduate at the ceremony, Manuera Harmer with a Bachelor of Arts (Māori) and Huia Harmer with the Level 4 Certificate in Māori Studies.
Of Ngāti Kahungunu and Te Arawa descent, John’s life was celebrated at a tangi held on Kahurānaki marae in Te Haukē. His whānau encompassed Karen, who was his partner for 40 years, 13 children, 57 mokopuna and 26 great mokopuna. John was formerly married to the late Marlane Duff.
Te Ūranga Waka student Patricia Emia says she had grown very close to John since starting Level 2 studies at EIT.
“It’s because of his guidance that I am studying the degree, something I never aspired to,” the former early childhood teacher and social worker says. John, who was related to Patricia, was “the greatest teacher” and very gentle in imparting knowledge.
Formerly a shearer, John lost his job as a freezing worker at Tomoana with the closure of the plant. Moving to EIT, he was known to staff and students at the school of Māori studies as Hone, and Patricia says he was their matua and/or father figure.
He and Materoa Haenga, who resigned as senior lecturer and kuia of Te Ūranga Waka and Te Whatukura late last year to take up a position with Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, were “like a māmā and pāpā”.
“Now we have got to pick up the tone. It is up to us to uphold the mana.”
Materoa, now honorary teaching fellow to EIT, says John was a mentor to all the staff in the school.
“He was an eloquent speaker in English and Māori and could move fluently between the two.”
Head of School Puti Nuku agrees.
“He was good at explaining the nuances of language. He loved to talk, and because of his life experiences he could bring a fresh perspective to any discussion without being judgemental. Given his knowledge and skills, he would have flown through the degree with honours.”