The sudden death of Dr Joe Williams last night after Covid-19 complications came just hours after the death of his older brother, the Herald has learned.
The family of Williams, former Prime Minister of the Cook Islands and a much-respected GP, are reeling after news of the double tragedy.
Williams, 85, died in Auckland City Hospital last night.
Just a day earlier, his brother Tuaine Williams died peacefully at The Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane.
Joe Williams’ nephew Dr Kiki Maoate told the Herald the double tragedy has hit the family hard.
“It is a blow for the family. They are reeling from it,” he said.
Joe Williams was admitted to hospital on August 13 after he became sick when it is thought he might have come in close contact to someone connected to the initial Auckland cluster.
His Mt Wellington practice is not far from the Americold coolstore.
He becomes the 24th person in New Zealand to die from Covid-19 and the second in less than 24 hours related to the current Auckland cluster.
The Ministry of Health said Joe Williams was a “widely regarded member of health services in both New Zealand and the Cook Islands”.
Williams served as the Cook Islands Prime Minister for four months in 1999. He earlier served as the country’s Health Minister.
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said Williams was a well-known politician, physician and author.
“Dr Williams was seen as a leading figure in the Cook Islands medical community and he will be sadly missed,” he said.
Maoate said he remembers his uncle 50 years ago stepping up to help bring about change to New Zealand’s health system.
“That was a crucial moment in our relationship, when I was young. He was an inspiration,” he said.
“His closeness and wanting to help people gave him that drive to be good at what he did.”
Maoate said he remembered being in Tahiti for a Ministers of Health conference and out of the blue Williams got Jean Gabilou, one of the most famous singers in the Pacific from Tahiti, to sit with them.
“The breadth of the relationships and friendships he made – I mean there is this famous singer and him having a chat at a table, exchanging CDs and songs and having a great laugh and reminiscing in that time amongst all these health officials, it was very poignant at that time.”
He said as a tribute to Williams his family planned to pick up where he left off and continue to help advantage the Pacific community through the health system.
“There is a deep loss among us, there is also a deep sense of strength that needs to come out as we look and reflect and drive the agendas that he has already installed in us, and at the end of the day it is about the people.”
Finance Minister Grant Robertson paid tribute to Williams, describing him as “such an influential leader in the Cook Island community, and in the health sector in general”.
“Deeply respected, my thoughts and aroha are with his family, friends and community,” Robertson said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said Williams had made a “serious mark” on the communities he served.
“He will be greatly missed in both New Zealand and the Cook Islands.”
Peters described Williams as a “dedicated and passionate man”.
“He was an enduring example of a Cook Islander who came to New Zealand for education, and then made a real difference in his chosen career,” he said.
“His family and the people of the Cook Islands should be proud of all that he achieved.”
Williams had been a candidate for NZ First at the 2005 election.