Sir Wira Gardiner passes away

A respected and familiar figure who strode purposefully along our many corridors of power during almost six decades of dedicated service to the people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Wira Gardiner smiles in the sunshine.
Tā Wira Gardiner at the launch of Ake Ake Kia Kaha E! in 2019. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murrayexpand/collapse

Sir Wira (Harawira) Tiri Gardiner (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pikiao, Whakatōhea and Te Whānua-ā-Apanui) was an honoured and highly respected leader.

He is widely known for his many significant roles within the public service and as a writer and historian.

Wira was the Author of five Books including Ake Ake Kia Kaha E!: B Company 28th Māori Battalion.

Neill Atkinson, Acting Deputy Chief Executive Delivery, at Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, reflected that ‘Tā Wira’s professionalism, dedication and commitment to upholding the mana of the Māori Battalion, especially the men of B Company, was exemplary.’

After twenty years in the army and by then a lieutenant colonel, Wira retired and moved into the public sector where he held numerous positions, including as founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal, founding General Manager of the Iwi Transition Agency, and the founding Chief Executive of the Ministry of Māori Development (now Te Puni Kōkiri). He was also the National Director of Civil Defence.

Admired for his expertise, integrity and reliability, his services were always in high demand. He worked tirelessly on a multitude of boards including as the chair of Te Māngai Pāho, the Tertiary Education Commission, the board of the Museum of New Zealand Papa Tongarewa, as the deputy chair of Te Ohu Kaimoana, and of the council of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.

Wira’s son Jeremy said “that of all my father’s many responsibilities, it was the role of koro to his eight mokopuna (grandchildren) that was most important to him. The reason he agreed to accept his last appointment as acting chief executive of Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Children in 2021 was because he always believed that improving the lives of others was important. He hoped that his work might be helpful to them and to subsequent generations in some way.”

In a final act of selflessness Wira requested that no tangi be held at his marae. He wanted to protect people from the spread of COVID-19 and to avoid contributing to the workload of health workers.

- Niki Partsch