“A man of few words, but a calming influence during times of turbulence and stress”
The Supreme Court of Samoa held a special sitting this morning in remembrance of Justice Vaepule Alo Vaemoa Vaai, who passed away in New Zealand last week having lost his battle with cancer.
Supreme Court Room No3 was packed with many who wanted to pay tribute to a man remembered for his humility and service to Samoa. In attendance were family members of the late Justice Vaai, members of the Judiciary, Judges of the Lands and Titles Court, the Minister of Justice and members of the Court Administration, and members of the Samoa Law Society.
The service was live streamed on the Facebook page of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration, for families and friends and Justice Vaai’s wife Letuimanu’asina Dr Emma Kruse-Vaai, watching from New Zealand.
Long serving academic Dr Letuimanuasina had resigned her post as the Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa Qualifications Authority in November last year, to spend time with her husband and join him in New Zealand where he had traveled for treatment.
The service was led by Father Eteuati Lapa of the Our Lady of the Rosary Parish at Siusega where Justice Vaai had served as a parishioner.
Three key speakers delivered tributes during the service; Samoa’s Attorney General Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, Samoa Law Society President Leiataualesa Komisi Koria and Senior Justice of the Supreme Court Vui Clarence Nelson.
The Attorney General spoke affectionately about Justice Vaepule’s dignified service to Samoa, carried out with upmost humility, and the unique ability to navigate storms when faced with challenges and difficult issues would arise. Savalenoa also gave a detailed overview of Justice Vaepule’s service to Samoa.
“O se faamasino agamalu, amio tausaafia, e leai ni uiga faaalia i lona tomai ma le loloto o le silafia i le tulafono e mimita vale ai (sei tulou), ae sasaa faaoti lana utu i le faatinoga o lona tiute, e to’a lava le tofa ma e le atugalu fo’i pe’a agi afa ma sousou le vasa. Faafetai tele i lau Afioga i le Faamasino.”
Vaepule had served as a District Court judge for over 12 years during which time he also served in the Youth and Coronial Court as well as the Family Court. During his time as a District Court judge, Vaepule drove the development and publication of the Bench Book for judges of the District Court.
He was promoted to the Supreme Court in 2016, where he had also presided over the Court of Appeal. He diligently served Samoa’s judiciary for 16 years, resigning only when it was time to travel to New Zealand for treatment last year.
Justice Vaepule Alo Vaemoa Vaai was a member of the Appeal Committe for Public Servants. He also was a Deputy President for the Lands and Titles Court.
Before joining the judiciary, Vaepule worked as a Public Servant with various government organisations. He served as Samoa’s Public Trustee from 2001 – 2004 and worked as a lawyer and Assistant Manager for the National Provident Fund from 1997 – 2004.
The President of the the Samoa Law Society Leiataualesa Komisi Koria said that Justice Vaai as he often heard people describe him, “was a man of few words, but a calming influence during times of turbulence and stress.”
Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, also a close friend of Justice Vaepule described him as a brother, a mentor, and a very dear friend for many years.
Holding back tears, the Supreme Court Justice paused for some time, before turning to address Letuimanuasina through the live feed…
“Emma, ia faamafanafana atu pea le matai sili ia te oe ma le nofoaalo faapea le aiga; ma ia avea lenei avanoa, e momoli atu ai alofaaga o le Faamasino Sili aemaise alii ma tamaitai o le Faamasinoga a Samoa.”
Vui said one of the appiontments Vaepule had loved so much was being a Judge of the Lands and titles Court. Vui also stressed how Vaepule was always very proud of his Savaii roots…
“O Vaepule e mimita lava ia, o le tama mai Vaisala i le motu tele.”
Vui shared how much Justice Vaepule was sorely missed by everyone.
“Since his retirement from office, he has been missed by all, because…yes, Vaepule was a colleague, but to us he was more than that;
“He was a mentor to many of the young judges, a friend to all, and one who applied the law with common sense, even if the law says something else.”
Justice Vaepule Alo Vaemoa Vaai went to Vaisala Primary School and came from there to attend Leififi Intermediate. His parents took him to New Zealand and he attended Wellington College, graduating from Victoria University with a degree both a Bachelor of Laws as well as Bachelor of Commerce and Administration.
Vaepule had started as a lawyer, working alongside his brother Saleimoa Vaai and cousin Lesatele Rapi Vaai, who had also served as Supreme Court justice for Samoa.
Justice Vaepule is survived by his wife, five children and six grand childern.
Two of his children followed in his footsteps. Lawyers Masoe Saleimoa Charlie Vaai, and Lemauga Maureen Vaai both frequent the Mulinuu Courthouse as defense counsels, working in private law firms.
E tusa ai ma le alagaupu na faaiu iai le saunoa a le Loia Sili, “Ua se togi le seu lagatila ua faapulou le tualima, ua malo fai o le faiva i lau Afioga i le Faamasino Vaepule Alo Vaemoa Vaai”.