Obituary: THE RT REVD SIR PAUL REEVES

by
31 August 2011

The Rt Revd Richard Randerson writes:

IN 1985, I was Vicar of St Peter’s in central Wellington, NZ, when the Rt Revd Sir Paul Reeves became Governor-General. The phone rang one Saturday night: “Paul Reeves here,” said the voice. “Beverley and I are coming to church tomorrow, but no fuss, no announce­ment: we’ll just slip quietly into a pew.”

At 9.55 the next morning, the church door opened and the vice-regal party entered, com­plete with aides-de-camp in military uniforms, and “slipped quietly into a pew”. For both Sir Paul and Lady Reeves, “slipping quietly into a pew” was precisely the way they thought of themselves, although the various offices they held made that difficult.

In creative ways, Beverley shared leadership with Paul, be it in Church or state. With a spirit of unassuming grace, together they invested each new office with mana — a quiet spirit of authority, warmth, and wise leadership, which was patent to all.

Paul Reeves was born on 6 December 1932 in Newtown, a lower-decile suburb of Welling­ton. His father, D’Arcy Reeves, was a tram-driver, while his mother, Hilda (Pirihira), was of Te Atiawa descent from the tribal regions around Mt Taranaki on the North Island’s west coast. Paul attended Wellington College, a nearby state high school, and then did tertiary studies in English literature at Victoria Univer­sity in Wellington.

He studied theology at St John’s College, Auckland, and was ordained deacon in 1958. The next year, he married Beverley Watkins, a fellow student from university days. They sailed immediately for England: Paul had received a Sir Apirana Ngata scholarship to study at the University of Oxford. He was or­dained priest in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, completed an MA in 1962, and served parishes in Lowestoft and Lewisham before re­turning home.

Back in Aotearoa New Zealand, Paul was appointed Vicar of Okato, a rural parish around the slopes of Mt Taranaki, home to his mother’s Te Atiawa people. Just a few kilo­metres away is the small community of Pari­haka, where in the 19th century the prophetic Maori leader Te Whiti o Rongomai stood firm against the unjust confiscations of his people’s land to satisfy boatloads of English immi­grants.

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The land wars of the 1860s-80s were led by the British military, but Te Whiti’s strategy was entirely non-violent. Paul’s two years in Okato opened for him deeper insights into his Maori heritage, as well as nurturing a strong com­mitment to justice and peace following in the way of Te Whiti.

After Okato, Paul taught at St John’s College before a brief period in the Christian Edu­cation post in Auckland diocese. It was in 1971, at the age of 38, that he was elected Bishop of Waiapu, on the east coast of North Island. Waiapu is a large diocese with many Maori, especially around the East Cape area, and Paul did much to boost their participation in church leadership.

In 1979, he was translated to Auckland, where he was Bishop for six years. From 1980 to 1985, he also held office as Archbishop and Primate of New Zealand. But, in 1985, he was ap­proached by the newly elected Labour Prime Minister, David Lange, and invited to be the next Governor-General. The decision was a difficult one that Paul and Beverley wrestled with.

Nor was it without controversy. There were those in the Church who saw it as an abandon­ment of a primary vocation as priest and bishop, particularly in one who as Archbishop now held a position of significant national leadership. There were those in the wider com­munity who saw it as a conflict between Church and state, notwithstanding that in New Zealand the Church is not established as in England.

Paul and Beverley came to the view that there was a wider vocation to be pursued with­out diminution of priesthood or Christian heritage, and hence moved to Government House in Wellington. Paul was 53.

As Governor-General, he brought some innovative touches to the office. The Govern­ment House ballroom on one occasion was filled with mattresses to provide overnight ac­commodation for 100 Maori visitors from Taranaki. He would take an early-morning run around the streets of Wellington, accompanied by aides, often stopping to chat with people in his adjacent childhood suburb of Newtown.

He also held regular one-day sessions at Government House for senior high-school students to explore the history and contem­porary implications of the Treaty of Waitangi, the 1840 covenant between Queen Victoria and New Zealand’s Maori chiefs.

Sir Paul was only 58 when he left the vice-regal office, and the next 20 years were filled with energetic and creative appointments. As the Anglican Observer to the United Nations in New York from 1991 to 1994, he provided significant leadership for indigenous peoples around the world.

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He was called on by the Commonwealth to take a lead in Fiji in seeking a new constitution aimed at resolving divisions after military coups. He also made 14 trips to Guyana on a one-man Commonwealth mission to resolve inter-party political tensions.

Back home, Sir Paul chaired Toi Te Taiao, the Bioethics Council of New Zealand, and, in 2005, became Chancellor of the University of Technology in Auckland. He played a con­tinuing part as elder statesman in the Anglican Church, and in 2007 was appointed as a member of the Order of New Zealand, the nation’s highest honour.

His short illness and death, on 14 August, stunned the nation. His body lay for three days in the ancient Holy Sepulchre church in Auck­land, where thousands came to mourn, pray, and share the eucharist daily. On the fourth day, he was taken in solemn procession to Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, where the state funeral was held.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, spoke movingly on behalf of the Anglican Com­munion. Representatives of the nation, Common­wealth, and university added tributes of their own. Most moving were the words of Paul and Beverley’s three daughters, Sarah, Bridget, and Jane, spoken by Sarah, now a judge of the Maori Land Court. His grand­children Roimata and Benjamin censed and sprinkled the casket as Archdeacon Tikituter­angi Raumati recited a poroporoake (farewell).

As Maori say, Paul’s death is like the falling of a mighty totara tree. In him was the fullness of life, the fullness of faith, and an overflowing reservoir of love that flowed out to encompass those closest to him, as well as people the whole world round.

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