In this issue, we have decided to feature a truly inspirational success story, of a beautiful soul, who has defied the odds with stereotype opinions that come with the natural progression of humans through aging. UPF is very proud to feature Tuisa Leone Patea Tanuvasa Filipo’s personal story.
As told by His Worship, Tuisa Leone Patea Tanuvasa Filipo JP, to Maiava T Brunt

In 1962, life was exciting for an 11 year old like me. Samoa had just gained Independence from New Zealand three months earlier. Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II had just been made Co-Chief of Independent Western Samoa. It was this particular year that I believe I, as an 11 year old boy, became an adolescent – a term that I can now clearly refer to at this time of my life – but back then, I had no term for this change in my level of thinking. All I knew then, was that I had begun to notice how hard my father had to work the plantation, and would go fishing daily. Why my parents had to work. How my mother was so supportive of my father as he worked night and day to financially provide for us. No matter how much we struggled financially, there seemed to always be enough food to share with our parish priest & catechist family, which my father never failed to ensure.
a1I was the youngest of 5 children. I would have been the youngest of 8 children, if my late sisters Katerina and Maria, and late brother Falaniko, did not pass away at birth. May they, and my parents, always Rest in Peace.
The year 1962, I realised, my family was not financially well off. Well, we were rich in land and in necessities of life. However if you measure wealth in terms of how much you had in your bank account, then I guess you can say we were not that well off in the 60’s. That means we had no fancy luxuries in my young days or extravagant Christmas or birthday presents. My parents did not waste time talking about any financial problems though, or feel sorry for themselves, or tell us if they were struggling. They were too busy working the land to make sure there was enough money to pay for our school fees, and bus fares for me and my siblings, as well as to feed us and our Priest and Catechist family.
As a child, you never understand the value of a good education, or even attending a school like Marist Brothers school. Back then, Marist Brothers primary school at Mulivai in Apia was one of the most prestigious schools a child could attend. Although our family was poor, my parents made sure we could attend only the best schools – no matter how expensive it was. I was blessed to attend Marist Brothers Primary school. However, even the bus fare to and from school was becoming more of a burden to me and my family. Lunch comprised of no fancy goodies. There was no such thing as taking money to school. I was lucky to even have a pair of rubber sandals as it was part of our uniform. Owning a pair of rubber sandals back in the days, was like owning a pair of leather shoes in today’s standards.
I was fortunate to pass an entrance exam into Chanel College, a Catholic Boarding College where I stayed until the end of each term. No bus fare was needed. (There were three terms in a year in those days). After seven years with Chanel College, I went straight to the seminary at St Columbas College, in the Blue Mountains, Sydney, Australia. Spending 7 years with Chanel College inspired me to become a Catholic Priest, but like the saying goes, “Many are called but only a few are chosen”. After one year, I decided that priesthood was not my vocation so I returned to Samoa. You can say that I was still on a journey of self-discovery and still unsure as to what career I should really pursue. I just wanted to be able to provide for my family.
My education level was sufficient for Samoa’s standards, and equivalent to a Higher School Certificate. This level of education blessed me with a job with Polynesian Airlines for 7 years since 1972 at age 21. I knew I was passionate about a job related to up-keeping the law, but of course I was not able to pursue further studies to realise a law career. I joined the Samoa Police Force in the hope of getting a promotion through “promotions exams” available to police officers who had served over 2 years. However, after exams were delayed for 4 years since my employment, compounded by the exciting buzz around town for the 1983 South Pacific Games, I decided to resign.
At the age of 33, the year 1984, I moved to New Zealand to pursue a new future, hoping to enrol at MIT (Manukau Institute of Techonology) for a Tertiary qualification. However, my father became sick, and my mother asked for help, if one of us boys could come home to help out. By then, two of us boys were in New Zealand with our families, and my older brother was living in the United States of America with his wife and children. I drew the short straw so I went back to Samoa in 1985 with No Savings, No Assets, and still No formal Tertiary qualification.
No doubt some of you could relate to my story, and I hope your situation wasn’t as helpless as I felt back then. Nevertheless, I hung onto my prayers and religion, and continued to toil any way I could to bring money in the family, by working the land.
Back in Samoa, I tried to imitate what my father used to do, ‘working the land during the day and going fishing at night’ to support the family. BUT it was very difficult, as I was not used to this type of routine. I was struggling but still tried my best. With my wife Naomi standing strong by my side, we managed to carry on and survived.
My father passed away in February 1990 but we still lived in Samoa with my mother, my wife, and my daughter, Charity, who was born on the 19th May, 1991.
After fourteen years (from 1985 to 1999), at age 48, my wife took me back to New Zealand to seek medical treatment for my severe spinal injury which paralyzed me from my chest down. The injury was due to an unofficial rugby game in our backyard in the village. At this point of my life, my dreams of getting a good steady office job was blurring into a very far distance.
I spent 5 months with the Otara Spinal Rehabilitation Unit. Crying almost every night from stress since we could only survive from one day to the other on the Sickness Benefit money we were given by the government. My wife became my 24/7 carer. I could have been discouraged and given up at this point, living the rest of my life as a cripple, but I did not want to be beaten by this medical condition. I simply willed myself to health through prayers and positive thinking. When I managed to use crutches, I pushed myself further to start studying. I was given another chance when I got accepted at MIT to study for an NZ Diploma in Business Management. I was 50 years old then, oldest in the class of 15 students.
In 2003, I came across a vacancy on the internet that grabbed my interest, so I submitted an application, and was accepted by the Ministry of Social Development as a Case Manager. I am still currently employed there as an Employment Coordinator.
Remember my passion for Law? In upkeeping the peace? The reason why I applied for the Samoan Police Force? Well, that passion never left me. With years of maturity, comes clarity. With my newfound clarity, I knew my true passion was in Law, especially sitting at the Land and Titles’ Court in Samoa. My father was employed for Judiciary Duties with the Land and Titles Court even though he had no academic qualification, but he was gifted with great knowledge of the Samoan Customs, Traditions, and History of Samoa. For as far as I can remember, I always wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, and be qualified for Judiciary Duties in any Court of Law. I also wanted to be a good solid role model to my family and their children, showing them that it’s never too late to achieve your dreams. It’s never too late to study.
In 2005, after undertaking more studies part-time, while working a full time job, I was appointed as a Justice of the Peace.
At the age of 62, in 2009, I completed my Judiciary course with the Open Polytec of New Zealand. In December 2014, I was finally appointed and sworn in to the Bench to do Court Duties at Auckland, North Shore, Waitakere, and Manukau District courts. When I walk into the courts to serve at the Bench, I am addressed by the Courts as “Your Worship”. Who would have thought that a simple, humble guy from Lotoso’a Saleimoa, many decades later, would be addressed in such a prestigious manner in a country like New Zealand? All glory be to God for this blessing in my life. Without my Almighty Father, and my Saviour, through prayers and faith, where would I be now?
I am now 65 years old, and at the age where I can retire back to the Islands and give back to my beloved country of Samoa. I always wanted to be able to serve at our Lands and Titles’ Court in Samoa. I still have this dream. I pray one day soon, this dream will finally be realised, God willing. I know that I am more than qualified now for that prestigious opportunity. It took this long, but I have proven that it’s doable, no matter your age. One just has to keep on dreaming, believing, and keep on working, and God will do the rest.
If you continue to dream, and work on that dream or passion, you too will achieve. Age is only a number. It is never too late to study. It is never too late to start on a new career path. I hope my father is smiling down on me. Dad was a fighter. I realise now, I too am a fighter, and a quiet achiever. God bless.