10 May 2012

Speaker of Cook Islands Parliament Sir Geoffrey Henry dies aged 71

1:37 pm on 10 May 2012

The Speaker of the Cook Islands Parliament, Sir Geoffrey Henry, has died.

Sir Geoffrey died at his home in Rarotonga on Tuesday local time surrounded by family members and close friends.

He was 71.

Sir Geoffrey, a former prime minister, had been battling cancer and had been a patient at the Rarotonga Hospital until Saturday when he was discharged home.

Plans are now being finalised for a state funeral for Sir Geoffrey, whose final resting place will be next to his home in Takuvaine.

Sir Geoffrey, who was born in Aitutaki in 1940 and is from a family of 16, married Louisa Hoff in 1965 and they had six children.

He entered the country's political scene in 1965 at the age of 24 - the youngest member of the Cook Islands Legislative Assembly - as an independent member for Aitutaki, and was the leader of the Cook Islands Party from the early 1980s until his retirement from politics in 2006.

Sir Geoffrey served as the country's prime minister for a brief period in 1983, and was again prime minister for a decade from 1989 to 1999.

He became a Knight Commander of the British Empire in 1992, and in February last year became the Speaker of Parliament.

The Cook Islands acting Prime Minister says Sir Geoffrey will be remembered as the Prime Minister who turned the country's economy around.

Tom Marsters says Sir Geoffrey revamped the whole economy in the 1990s, the results of which can still be seen today.

"He's left behind a legacy of of a strong economy. Some people may remember him as the one whom they lost their jobs with, but I think from a national point of view, he will be remembered as the one who got the country back on its feet."

Tom Marsters says a state funeral is being planned for this Friday Cook Islands time.

New Zealand's former Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, says Sir Geoffrey Henry was a very strong Pacific personality.

Mr Bolger says he was very firm in what he believed in, but was always fair.

You could always rely on Geoff to keep a conversation going. The Pacific style is to have quite long pauses, but Geoff didn't like long pauses. He was a lively contributor and a passionate supporter of the Cook Islands and a passionate supporter of the Pacific.

Jim Bolger says Sir Geoffrey will be remembered fondly around the region.