Family of cancer campaigner desperate for return of pounamu

Source: 1News

The family of cancer campaigner Blair Vining is desperate for a pounamu taken from his Southland grave to be returned.

It was extra special with his wife and two daughters also given a piece cut from the same stone.

As he was dying, Blair Vining did all he could to reform cancer care in Aotearoa.

His efforts were so appreciated he was gifted a pounamu.

But on Boxing Day, his family discovered it was missing from his grave.

“I don’t really think there’s words to describe how it feels,” his widow, Melissa Vining said.

“We [the family] felt quite sick and we felt really hopeful that someone's accidentally taken it and not realised the significance of it to us.”

The man who gifted it to him, pounamu carver, Trevor Willetts, was also stunned.

“For someone to take something off a grave is pretty low, but to take it off Blair's grave is another step lower than that.”

Michael Skerrett from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu told 1News “it's a breach of tikanga... like Māori a huge part of Māori culture… and it’s absolutely not the right thing to do".

Blair’s wife and two daughters were also gifted a piece cut from the same stone.

“A lot of people have kindly offered to replace the piece that was at the cemetery, but obviously it can't come from the same piece as our piece, and we would prefer to have our piece back,” Melissa Vining said.

Trevor Willetts added “there's no point getting rid of it or the tapu won't be lifted until it goes back... it might not affect them but their whole family".

Blair died in October 2019 after being diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer.

Earlier that year, the 39-year-old and his wife presented a 140,000-signature strong petition to Parliament calling for reform to cancer care.

They also campaigned for the Southland Charity Hospital, which is currently being built.

The family have not reported the incident to police, instead taking to social media with a plea for more information.

They have had strong support from the community so far, but at this stage there are no leads.

“Oh please return it... just return it quietly,” Michael Skerrett said.

"It was his final resting place, and it was a gift that has been given to him and please don't throw it away, we would just really appreciate if you could quietly put it," Melissa Vining said.

A plea from a devastated family, desperate to still be connected to their loved one.