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Royalty & Nobility

Baron Vaea passes away after a long life of service

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Baron Vaea, pictured in 2004. Photo courtesy Adrienne L. Kaeppler.

A former Tongan Prime Minister, Hon. Baron Vaea (‘Alipate), Noble of Houma (88), passed away at his residence ‘Tali ki Ha’apai’ at Houma, Tongatapu, at around 10pm yesterday, Sunday June 7.

A family member confirmed today, that Baron Vaea had been confined to bed since last month with failing health. Prior to that he was in New Zealand for medical treatment before returning to Tonga at the end of May. It is confirmed that his body will be kept at his home in Houma where his funeral is scheduled to take place at the end of the week.

Prime Minister

Baron Vaea who lived through the reign of three Tongan monarchs, had a distinguished career in government covering 54 years of service.

He was born on May 15, 1921. A nephew of Queen Salote, his father was Vilai Tupou, half brother to the Queen, and his mother was Tupou Seini, a daughter of the noble Vaea.

He was among the first noble heirs to be educated overseas, attending Wesley College, Auckland 1938-41.

A second world war veteran, who had served abroad in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (1942-45), Vaea entered government in January 1945.

Vaea served in the RNZAF (1942-45). Photo Vaea family

He served the queen as ADC (1953-58) and a highlight of the period was the visit to Tonga of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Vaea who was a Governor of Ha’apai (1960-68), was appointed Baron in 1970. He was Tonga’s first High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (1969-72), and later served in various ministerial posts. He was appointed as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry in 1975, a portfolio that he held until he retired. He became Tonga’s first Minister of Labour and Commerce, and Industries (1972-91) and was responsible for the construction of the Small Industries Centre at Ma’ufanga. Vaea at various times also held the portfolios of Education, Civil Aviation, Tourism, and Marine and Ports. Then after applying for retirement, he was appointed Prime Minister of Tonga from 1991 to 2000, continuing also to hold other portfolios.

Vaea was notably one of Tonga’s longest serving civil servants, until in 2000 at the age of 78, his resignation was finally accepted by Tupou IV.

In his retirement interview with the Matangi Tonga magazine, Baron Vaea talked about the unresolved problems facing Tonga that concerned him most: the desperate need for capital funds, the uncertain future of the water supply, the pollution of the environment and the unproductive lifestyle of Tongan youth. He wanted government to lead the way by encouraging people to go into business; and challenged the thinking where Tongans welcomed change, “but the policy that we run our lives under is still the old style - religious activities still occupy most of our time and attention.”

As a noble he was a keeper of tradition, but also ushered in the future, observing, “Sometimes I think it would be best if Tonga changed, … we should let go of some of our beliefs and the way that we do things that seem to weigh us down.”

Baron Vaea will also be remembered as an accomplished performer of traditional dance, composer and orator.

He is survived by wife Baroness Tuputupu Vaea, five of their six children and one adopted daughter, and many grandchildren. Their children are HRH Princess Nanasipau’u Tuku’aho, Hon. Luseane Luani, Hon. ‘Alipate Tu’ivanuavou Vaea, Hon. ‘Amelia Luoluafetu’u Lasike, Hon. Moimoikimofuta Kaifahina Vaea, Hon. Ratu Edward Vaea (deceased) and Hon. Cassandra Tuku’aho (of Tu’ivanuavou Vaea).


Baron Vaea lived life to its fullest: Baron Vaea's dedication to duty and the long service rendered to the people of Houma and his country are all too rare in this day and age. His life is certainly one seemingly lived to its fullest and taking advantage of every opportunity that was the good fortune to come his way. We can only share from afar through our thoughts and prayers the grief of the Baronness and her family in this difficult time. Many of the young nobles rising through the leadership ranks within our own communities and the country should take a moment to reflect on the passing of an enduring leader who gave his full measure of devotion to all that he did. Keep up the great journalistic work! - "Silence Dogood".

I bless his memory: I was sad to learn that Baron Vaea passed away June 7 in his home in Houma. Twice I was fortunate enough to meet him and his capability as an orator was unique. Listening to him talk about his life and all he had been part of was an unforgetable experience and very special history lesson. I will always remember the grand old man. Respectfully yours, Peggy Matheson, Oslo, Norway.

Baron Vaea: farewell old friend. A "Gentleman" is the word that always comes to mind whenever I met with or thought about Baron Vaea. It was my pleasure to meet with him again when I was in Tonga, November before last. His memory was still amazing as he recalled many of the experiences of the 28 years that I had known him. Also the history behind how he became the Minister for Labour and Commerce. He was always available to see me through the years that I spent in Tonga and we have some wonderful memories, thanks to him and Ragavan. One time always is remembered by my wife and I. We pulled up at the bowser and were surprised to see him riding in the back of a Ute dressed in working clothes. He waved to us and I enquired as to how he was feeling. To our amazement he threw his arms up in the air and shouted to us "I'm Free!" thank you Simi! I had never seen him so happy or dressed like that. He went on to explain that he had just been allowed to resign from being Prime Minister and now he could get his hands dirty doing gardening. He was so happy, but still a gentleman. It is a privilege to be able to call him a friend. Our sincerest condolences to Baroness Tuputupu and the family. Old Friend please enjoy your rest, we'll meet again and talk again one day.- Simi and Keleane Beaton, Childers-Queensland, Australia.

Tonga lost two Statesmen: We will miss two of Tonga's highest statesmen who together helped form Tonga's history and destiny. My wife and I had the honor of meeting both Baron Vaea and Dr. Langi Kavaliku in 1986. We watched them reach out to the young men and women to train them to serve their country with dedication, honesty and respect. Their impact on Tonga can be seen in so many areas of Tonga's development. Their long list of accomplishments has been listed and will be recorded in your history books for years to come. Our impression of both men was the integrity, loyalty and dedication each showed to the Royal family and the people of Tonga. As Tonga looks back on their achievements history will be written for their accomplishments. Our sincere condolences and prayers are extended to each family. Our prayer is that the future young men and women will never forget the many lessons and experiences passed on to them. 'Ofa Atu, Cliff and Nancy Johnston, Portland, Oregon,USA