A light has gone out

by | Jun 4, 2012 | Uncategorized | 17 comments

He was my light house, when I was a child and school was tough. Rural New Zealand was not the place for bright, imaginative kids. These were the days of rote learning and corporal punishment.

In my memoir, I devoted a whole chapter to the best teacher I would ever have. I wrote:
‘Mr Okeroa was short and stocky, with black curly hair, a wide smile that made his nostrils flare even more broadly, and a throaty chuckle.’

‘He was a storehouse of goodness, a feast and a variety concert all in one. Creative energy poured out of him like the brass band parade that spilled down Rata Street to Jubilee Park to celebrate Inglewood’s Greatest Show on Earth, or the circus that came to town . . . Being with him was like tumbling inside rich chords rather than riding on single notes, for he encouraged us to express ourselves in every possible way and in media we never dreamed existed. . . he brought joy into the classroom.’

He taught us puppet-making, singing, poetry-writing, Maori stick games, and poi dances. We painted rafter patterns on long strips of paper which he hung around the class-room. Every day was packed with creativity.

One day he took us on a school trip around the mountain, and that’s when we saw Cape Egmont and the lighthouse in the area where he grew up. Later I discovered that he had temporarily taken on driving the school bus, in addition to teaching, and that he paid for the petrol himself so that we could have the trip.

Memoir writing has a way of opening the gates of memory. Through writing ‘Touching Snow’, I realised fully, just how much I owed to this special teacher. I wondered if he was still alive, and—what a miracle—I found him again, and we enjoyed six years of special visits, letters, and heart connection.

This morning he died, aged 82. Haere Ra, Jim. I will never forget you, and the light you shed.


  1. Joan

    Oh Juliet.. a life well lived and how wonderful that you re-connected in time, with your wonderful teacher. How wonderful it must have been for both of you.

  2. juliet

    Joan, thank you for your response. It was a great blessing that I found him again, and had such special times with him after so many years. It also really affirmed the aroha that we shared; yes, wonderful for both of us, as you say.

  3. Ruth P

    Ah Juliet, so today is deeply significant. I have watched your blog and wondered over the past week or so. It is a privilege for us distant readers to salute the energy and aroha of a true Teacher – and to stand with you as you mark his passing. There will be more to learn in the tomorrows to come, but for now, it is special to share this post you have created. Wishing you peace in the stillness of this full moon night. Ruth

  4. juliet

    Ruth, what a lovely comment. He was such a special person. To pass over on the full moon seems fitting. Thank you for visiting and for your thoughtfulness.

  5. Hotly Spiced

    I’m so sorry such a wonderful man who had such a huge impact on your learning has passed away. But how great it is that you were able to reconnect with him and let him know how much he had imputed into your world. It’s amazing the impact great teachers can have on affecting their students destiny. xx

  6. juliet

    Charlie, it’s so true. A great teacher is never forgotten. I’m so glad I was able to tell him what he meant to me. Thank you.

  7. lifeonthecutoff

    Such sadness that comes when such a good soul and teacher passes on, then your touching tribute and the gradual realization that though they are gone in body, their spirit is still with us. Jim Okeroa’s spirit, determination, lessons, and goodness are all gifts that will remain. What a remarkable teacher he was, JI am so sorry for this loss. Penny

  8. Max

    So sorry to hear of your loss Juliet. What luck to have an inspiring teacher in those times, he must have been so happy to know of his effect on you and that you are ‘paying it forward’ as such. As luck would have it i came across your biog in rhe library on friday night, i’m looking forward to finding out more about Mr Okeroa x

  9. juliet

    Penny, you are so right. The goodness is there forever, and a loving, gifted teacher is never forgotten.

    Max, I was very lucky to have such a teacher. It’s only later that I realised this fully.

    Thank you Penny & Max for your comments, so much appreciated.

  10. Lynley

    A great Totara has fallen in the forest.

    What a blessing to have had such a special and formative teacher when you were a child Juliet.

    I imagine Jim would have felt very constrained by the endless assessing and narrow focus on curriculum in primary schools now.

    Will you plant a tree in his honour at the bach?

  11. juliet

    Thank you Lynley. Planting a tree is a lovely idea. I was very lucky to have such a teacher.

  12. Anne Dean Ruffell

    I am so sorry to hear the news that your wonderful teacher has died and can imagine the loss that you feel. It was so good that you did see him before he went. What a lasting legacy he has left behind as he must have touched and enhanced so many people’s lives.

  13. juliet

    Anne, how lovely to have you visit and comment. I was so glad that I got to see him before he died. The death notice in the Herald says ‘loved father, koro . . . etc and then ‘loved teacher to many’, which is so true. Thank you.

  14. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Juliet – so glad you posted about your book .. I’ll have a look at buying it shortly ..

    What an amazing man – he impacted hugely on your life .. and I’m so pleased you were able to be in touch before he passed on – that must have pleased him so so much ..

    The tree idea – sounds special .. and/or a placement up near the lighthouse .. I’m sure you’ll come up with an appropriate tribute ‘henge’ ..

    With many thoughts – Hilary

  15. juliet

    Thanks Hilary. If you want the book, you’ll need to order it directly from me as it’s not listed with Amazon.

  16. Cherie

    I too was touched deeply in the heart by this beautiful man, whose spirit soared, higher than an eagle on the wing, larger than the mountain under which he resided, keeper of the faith of his ancestral lands and forefathers. I Wept upon learning of his passing, knowing that I had indeed, soaked up already, a large snowflake as it drifted off the mountain, closer to home than I could ever of imagined. Kaimiro was my home for many years, though circumstance took me away from my homeland, a branch from the Totara called me home, and so I did return. James, and Ray, together in that little school just out of Inglewood, laid foundations that I believe has given me wings today. Bless then both, RIP James, RIP Ray Hughan. For great friends were these two!
    I must have a copy of the book you have written Juliet, please direct me to an email address where I can purchase it.
    Aroha, Cherie de Perrot

  17. juliet

    Cherie, how wonderful to hear of these memories of yours, and to know how other lives were touched by this special man.


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