20 January 1920 - 22 June 2018
The life of Kaumatua James Perena Watts, more commonly known as Perry, Uncle Perry or Popeye, was celebrated at a tangi at the Omaha Marae on June 26.
Family, friends and well-wishers from overseas and around New Zealand gathered for the service that was led by Perry’s nephew, Reverend John Marsden and Ratana Minister Jesse Pene.
Eulogies and waiata paid tribute to a man who was remembered as a farmer, shearer, fisherman, rugby player and musician, but most of all as a loving husband to the late Sarah Watts, father to Edward, Dorothy, Connie and Tui, and grandfather and great-grandfather.
Although Perry was associated mostly with Pakiri and then Leigh, he grew up in Kaiwaka, where his iwi was Ngati Whatu and his hapu was Te Uri o Hau. He also had connections to Ngati Wai and Ngati Manuhiri.
His father worked on a council road gang, but was also regarded as a first class fencer and fisherman.
Tragedy struck the family when Perry was just two years old, when his mother died in childbirth.
After graduating from Tanoa Maori School at Otamatea, Perry did general labouring and then worked on the construction of hydro power pylons, between Wellington and Wellsford and Helensville.
However, most of his working life was spent on a farm in Pakiri, after he married Sarah, nee Pairama.
He was an active member of the community, serving on the Pakiri School PTA, the Pakiri Hall
Committee and the Pakiri Church Committee. And it was the community who supported him when he fell seriously ill with redwater fever, caught from the cows, which involved many months of recovery.
During his youth, he played rugby for Omaha and Eastern (Kaiwaka), mostly as centre, but also on the wing or at fullback. He was a Rodney and Otamatea representative player, and a North Auckland trialist. His enthusiasm for the game never dimmed.
Perry and Sarah were well known for their musical talents, and were in demand at many local social events – Perry on saxophone and Sarah on the piano. Often they were joined by son Eddie on the drums, Danny Lewis on guitar and Laly Haddon, also on sax.
After retiring to Leigh, Perry became the honorary harbourmaster and fisheries liaison officer, and took a keen interest in the Omaha Marae. When the first marae burned down, he was a key figure in establishing the new marae where he would often speak to visiting groups about the history
of the area.
Perry and Sarah were followers of the Ratana Church and made annual pilgrimages to Wanganui every January.
At the tangi, people remembered Perry as a “true gentleman”, a patient, humble and kind man who enjoyed a joke and didn’t mind a beer.
He was interred at the urupa at the marae.