AUCKLAND, (NZ HERALD) – Jonah Lomu was more than just a rugby player – he was an inspiration, a hero and a much loved family man.
“We are gathered here to remember a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, an outstanding rugby player and a great New Zealander,” Pacific Peoples Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga told a crowd of nearly 1000 who gathered at a memorial service in Mangere for Lomu on Sunday night.
Lotu-Iiga, who passed on the Prime Minister’s condolences to the family, said he had been stunned, shocked and saddened by the death of Lomu last week.
He then paid tribute to how the 40-year-old had transformed the game of rugby and to what he contributed to the nation.
“For me, he was a Mangere boy, from the holy city where we gather tonight.
“He was the boy that grew up here in Favona … who within a year of leaving school was playing for the All Blacks.”
That inspired people, Mr Lotu-Iiga said. It taught them to dream and to “strive for excellence”.
Many in the large crowd, including Lomu’s mother, friends and family, wiped away tears throughout the service, which included prayer and song.
Memorial organiser Salote Heleta-Lilo welcomed the congregation, saying Lomu’s “legacy will never go away forever”.
She described how Lomu grew up in Mangere and went to Wesley College. She called him a “God-gifted son of the Pacific” and said the community had been “paralysed” by his death.
“We shall miss your presence, Jonah. You have taught our community to dream for their future.”
MP Sua William Sio, who was invited to the service by family, said he counted himself among Lomu’s friends, and got to know him well while traveling with him in 2011.
“He will always be a son of Tonga and the Pacific,” he said. “And he will always be a son of the South Side.
“He encompasses us – the good, the bad and the ugly. Real people. He inspired us all. When he ran on the field, we ran on with him. When he crashed through tackles, we crashed with him. And when he scored, we scored too.”
The service, which was also attended by a representative of the Tongan royal family, was live-streamed so that Tonga and other Pacific Island nations could be involved in remembering Lomu, a player who represented them all on the international stage.
Large numbers of the guests wore ta’ovala, a traditional woven skirt, to show respect.
Fijian-Indian community leader Vijendra Prasad said Lomu was a legend, and everyone knew it.
He joked that while Indians didn’t play rugby, they still knew Jonah. “My son and my daughter … They started watching rugby … and no one could change the channel.”
Fala Haurangi, a Tuvalu community leader, delivered a powerful speech that was met with loud applause mid-way through.
She talked passionately about Lomu’s global legacy and how that was shown by the coverage of his death by the international media.
Haurangi said she admired Lomu and, like many speakers, called him a “son”.