By ELLEN TIAMU
SIR Vincent Serei Eri died in May 1993, aged 57. This was two years after he had resigned as governor-general after refusing to sign papers to dismiss Ted Diro following a constitutional crisis.
He was appointed governor-general for a six-year term in 1990 after the death of Sir Ignatius Kilage and was knighted the same year.
For Sir Vincent’s family, he is still remembered as a loving father figure. His wife, Lady Margaret, still misses him greatly.
Margaret Karulaka was a young nurse at the LMS hospital at Orokolo in Gulf when she met her 23-year-old husband in 1959 when he was deputy headmaster at Ihu Primary School. They married the same year at the Catholic Church at Orokolo. She was 18. She left her job to stay home and take care of the children.
Over the years her husband became a school inspector and then attended the University of Papua New Guinea. He graduated and continued to hold senior positions in the Education and because of that the family travelled to different parts of the country.
In 1975, Eri was appointed Papua New Guinea’s first consul-general to Australia, based in Sydney. In 1977, he and his young family moved to Canberra where he took up the post of high commissioner .
Eri, as he was known at the time, was interested in politics and together with Diro, then an MP, founded the People’s Action Party.
Lady Margaret is now 74. It is now 24 years since the death of her husband and the void his death left has been hard to fill. Her consolation has been their five children (the sixth, the eldest son has died) and her 26 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.
She now lives in their family home at Hohola 2 where they have been residing since 1968.
Lady Margaret was concerned about the welfare and future of their children when her husband died and so sought the help of at least two prominent politicians, but nothing was given
“People thought of him as nothing. He is gone,” she said. “Everybody worked as governor-general and played the same role and should be treated the same.”
She remembers him being hugely disappointed after his resignation.
Their daughter Helen recalled the night her father passed away.
“He had picked my son and me up from Hanuabada on that Tuesday evening and taken us to the Hohola house.
“We were all in the house and Dad had gone to the gate to lock up. That’s when he fell. We all ran out, got him into the car and I drove like crazy to the hospital (Port Moresby General) but it was too late.”
Helen is certain he died of a heart attack.
Sir Vincent was taken home to his Moveave village and buried at his ancestral burial site at Ivute. He was paramount chief (Pukari Irukovu) of his Moveave village which is in the Malalaua sub-district of Gulf.
Lady Margaret says her husband’s people were unkind to her and her children at the time of his death and burial. But she is not one to hold a grudge.
“These are physical things, material things . . . and I forgive them. I forgave them long ago.”
Lady Margaret accepts that while she might never receive the entitlements that all former governors-generals get after they leave office, she holds dear the wonderful memories from their marriage.
Just after returning from Canberra, Sir Vincent had built her a house at her Iokea village. Lady Margaret visits her village home from time to time where she gardens and enjoys the serenity and simplicity of life there.
She also told of how she was asked to launch a passenger liner in Japan when she and her husband travelled there for the enthronement of Emperor Akihito.
She also loved the visits to zoos in Australia during a state visit.
Helen, a former netball star and coach, remembers how, every so often, her father would collect all his grandchildren to go shopping and would get whatever they wanted. She said the children became so used to this shopping arrangement that when they tried it after his death, they quickly learnt that things were going to be different.
Sir Vincent is also remembered as the first Papua New Guinean to write a novel.
The Crocodile which was published in 1970 and became a must-read for students at both high schools and national high schools in the late 1970s and 1980s.
In the highest literary circles in PNG, the national literature competition has been named “The Crocodile Prize” under which awards are given to top writers in various categories annually, in memory of Sir Vincent.
By ELLEN TIAMU