Local Focus: How joy triumphs tragedy

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 11 Jan 2022, 11:41am
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Local Focus: How joy triumphs tragedy

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 11 Jan 2022, 11:41am

In 1958 John Su answered a phone call from nursing student Piula Su (nee Lefua). 

She was trying to contact a friend from her village in Samoa who was also living in Auckland. 

Intrigued by Piula and her interesting Samoan accent, he immediately rode his scooter to her house. 

It was love at first sight. The following year they married and moved to Gisborne where they raised seven children. 

Her Journey to Gisborne started just before her 18th birthday when she left her remote village of Safotu – in Savaiʻi, Samoa – at the request of her grandfather Lefua. 

Leo Fowler, who did radio work in the village from 1949 to 1952, was moving to New Zealand with his wife to manage the Gisborne radio station. 

He asked the village if there was anyone available to come to New Zealand to look after their sickly son Christopher. 

Piula's grandfather saw it as a great opportunity for his family so sent Piula, his eldest granddaughter, to pave the way for the wider family. 
In Gisborne she became involved in the Methodist Church, which would later lead to her becoming the first Pasifika woman to be ordained a deacon of the church in New Zealand. 

The Su family started a Samoan-language church service to cater to the increasing number of Samoan families in Gisborne. 

Tragedy hit the Su family in 1985 when two of their daughters, Beulah and Felicity, were killed in a car accident. 

Eldest daughter Reverend Alisa Lasi remembers the funeral and how strong her mother was. 

"I just saw her sitting between the two coffins and looked at her and thought, wow something is keeping her strong," Lasi said. 

"I knew it was her faith." 

When Piula's husband Reverend John Su passed away in 1991 she took over the Samoan Methodist services, adding to her already-busy schedule as a deacon. 

In 1996 while attending a Samoan women's conference in Auckland, Piula was hospitalised with meningitis and lost her hearing. 

Her son Sam and family lived with her. He said it made her more determined to continue her ministry and community work. 
"It seemed to inspire her to fight back, to continue meeting people and helping people," he said. 

"She didn't want to give up on anything." 

Through all these trials and tragedies her love and joy were always evident. 

On December 6 Piula Su died aged 87, surrounded by her family in Gisborne. 

She had 22 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. 

Known for her contagious laugh, her favourite phrase was Praise the Lord. 

Grandson Siona Lasi remembers her as a Joyous woman who always had time for family and friends. 

"No matter what time of the day, or part of life you are in, she would always welcome you," he said. 

Her daughter Sarah Su said she passed on her loving nature and everyone who met Piula loved her. 

"Even the people that were looking after her in the hospital, they fell in love with her as well. 

She will be remembered for her strong faith, her infectious joy, and service to the Gisborne community. 

- by Renae Lolohea, NZ Herald