Respected Northland lawyer Wiremu Puriri loses battle with cancer

Respected Northland lawyer Wiremu Puriri passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Northland’s legal fraternity is mourning the loss of respected lawyer Wiremu Puriri, who lost his battle with cancer.

The 67-year-old, of Whangārei, died at the North Haven Hospice in Tikipunga early Friday, surrounded by his family. District Court Judge Brandt Shortland said Puriri was well-respected by all – his colleagues, court staff and the judiciary in general.

“Everybody had been rallying around to support him. He worked up to the point where he couldn’t continue physically.”

The judge said people may not know that Puriri wrote the lyrics of one of the songs in the recent New Zealand movie Red, White and Brass and accompanied his judicial colleagues to watch the film.


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“Even then, walking with a walking stick and very thin, he was determined to carry on. He will be missed,” Judge Shortland said.

Red, White and Brass is centred around Tongan New Zealander rugby fan Maka, who is seeking to get tickets to attend the 2011 Rugby World Cup game between Tonga and France in Wellington.

Maka frequently clashes with his successful cousin Veni, who has aspirations of climbing the social ladder and regards Maka as a loser.

Wiremu Puriri pictured with former chamber colleague Kelly Ellis (right) and his wife and son only weeks before his death.
Wiremu Puriri pictured with former chamber colleague Kelly Ellis (right) and his wife and son only weeks before his death.

Following a church fundraising effort, Maka buys fake tickets from a local criminal. Though Maka’s mother manages to recover the funds, they are too late to buy the tickets for the match.


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Northland Criminal Bar Association co-chairman Wayne McKean said Puriri was highly respected by all and was totally professional with a sharp mind.

“He was a skilled advocate but had a warm heart, and he warmed the room when you were in it with him. We will miss him.”

McKean had known Puriri for more than 20 years and they last spoke to each other on Friday last week at the hospice.

“He was hugely admired for battling through the illness for a long time, and when he deteriorated, he deteriorated quickly,” he said.

Lawyer Kelly Ellis once operated out of the same legal chamber as Puriri in Whangārei, and she also paid rich tribute to him.

“He was a man of great dignity and that was evident to everyone who spoke to him. He had real steel in his backbone and he wasn’t afraid to speak what was right.”

Ellis spoke to Puriri at his home a week before he passed away and said he didn’t think he would leave any legacy behind. It showed his humble and down-to-earth personality, she said.

“There were few Māori lawyers when he started practising law, and Wiremu was a forerunner in showing that Māori could have real ownership and participate equally in the legal system.

“He stoically fought cancer for many years and had a great sense of duty towards a highly competitive and not very friendly profession,” Ellis said.

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