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The call that turned into wedding bells

In 1958 while studying nursing in Auckland, Piula Su (nee Lefua) tried to call a friend from her village in Samoa, who was also living in Auckland.

John Su answered the phone and when he heard Piula speak Samoan, she didn't sound like anyone he had ever heard before. Intrigued by her interesting accent he decided he needed to meet her straight away.

John rode his scooter to her house that same day and it was love at first sight.

The following year they married and moved to Gisborne where they raised seven children.

Her journey to New Zealand started just before her 18th birthday, when she left her remote village of Safotu - in Savaiʻi, Samoa at the request of her grandfather Lefua.

Broadcaster 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 son Christopher, who was not a strong child.

Piula's grandfather saw this as a great opportunity for his family and sent his eldest granddaughter to pave the way for his family.

Once 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 in the Methodist Church of New Zealand.

The Su family was very involved in the Gisborne Methodist Church, starting a Samoan language service to cater to the increasing number of Samoan families in Gisborne.

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

Eldest daughter, the 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, the 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 her illness 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 passed away aged 87, surrounded by her family in Gisborne.

She had 22 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

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

Her 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 were 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 who 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

JOYOUS: Piula Su, fondly known by friends and family as Nana Su, is remembered for her strong faith, her infectious joy and service to the Gisborne community. Picture supplied