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Friendship blooms for Filipo and Paneta

Written by Maryvonne Gray
on November 10, 2023

They follow different faiths, have had very different careers and there is 15 years in age between them.

But Filipo Sio and Paneta Semu have two big things in common – they are both proud Samoans and now proud Keith Park Retirement Village residents!

For Paneta, who moved into the village with his wife Neryl two years ago, it was a thrill to see Filipo arrive with his wife Dora in tow.

“It’s great to find another Samoan here, now we have to look and see if there’s a family connection!” says Paneta.


The pair have now met up several times to find out more about each other.

Paneta, 72, was born in Moto’otua Hospital in 1951 and was raised in a village called Pesega on the island of Upolu. He moved to New Zealand when he was five, completing all of his schooling in Auckland, first at Beresford Primary School, then Blockhouse Bay Intermediate and then Avondale College.

Filipo’s village Le’auva’a is just a short drive along the coast away from Pesega and he arrived in New Zealand just a year before Paneta in 1955, but aged 19 and speaking no English whatsoever!

“I was working in the freezing works and I was very lucky that was my first job. And then I met Dora at a dance.”

Filipo moved out to Titirangi with Dora and got a new job as a linesman putting in poles and running telephone wires in numerous Auckland streets.

It has now been 60 years since the pair married at St Benedict’s Catholic church in Newton.

He took English exams and soon achieved a number of firsts – becoming the first Pacific Islander to become a foreman at the Post Office, then senior foreman, then the first to become a sales manager at Telecom.

Filipo’s success in sales allowed him to provide for his growing family – now four daughters, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren – and even provide opportunities for his siblings and other family contacts from Samoa.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, Paneta served a two year mission after leaving school then did a range of different jobs including selling life insurance, retail and electronics before becoming a prison officer.

“You’re either made for the job or you’re not,” says Paneta. “It was really hard in corrections… I thought I would only do it for a couple of years but it was 23 years.

“I was a prison officer on the floor for 7-8 years and then I went into programmes.”

The rehabilitative programme Paneta worked on as a Saili Matagi facilitator is specifically aimed at Pacifica men.

“Saili Matagi, in search for winds. Which is the best wind to take you and that’s how people in the Pacific moved around from island to island.”

IMG_8596 (1) (Large)

Paneta, left, with Dora and Filipo.

Like Filipo, he is also married to a ‘palangi’ wife with whom he has a large family – two daughters and two sets of twin boys plus 19 grandchildren.

Filipo has also done some work with prisoners, although the way it came about was very different to Paneta.

In 2006, at the age of 70, Filipo was hit by a car. His spine was damaged and two steel rods had to be inserted into the top, with medics telling him he wouldn’t walk again.

After four months in the spinal unit he made an incredible recovery and decided to write a book – The Samoan Who Said Yes.

Filipos book

Filipo pictured with his book when he published it in 2012.

A young prisoner wrote to him after reading the book and Filipo went to visit him which led to invitations to speak to other prisoners.

“The sad thing for me was seeing so many Samoan men in jail. I know a couple of them were in tears.

“I told them ‘we all make mistakes but I want right now that you’re going to tell yourself to change your life, right this very moment’.”

Meanwhile, Paneta and Filipo are getting to know each other better and enjoying village life at Keith Park, with Paneta enjoying the time he now has for his painting hobby.

“I do nature, how things appear and close ups, and Pointallism, which is all in dots.”

Now, coming from villages so close together in Samoa, they’re convinced they could even be distant cousins.

“We’ve got to look if there’s a connection,” says Paneta.

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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