BY EDWARD P (TED) WOLFERS
ALTHOUGH I CANNOT, unfortunately, be with you today, my thoughts are certainly with you and others attending the official launching by Right Honourable Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare of Sir Thomas Ritako’s autobiography, Arise Sir Thomas.
Like many others, I am sure, my feelings are mixed – joy that the book written by our mutual friend, the late Sir Thomas Ritako, which he was so looking forward to seeing published, has finally appeared; and sorrow that the author cannot be present to share in the occasion.
Sincere thanks and congratulations to you, Lady Ruby, for your persistence; Right Honourable Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare for helping to fund publication and then officially launching the book; Ambassador Wasangula Noel Levi for a Preface which pays tribute to the author’s strong character and impressive achievements; Dr Bernard Minol for his work on the manuscript; and the University of Papua New Guinea Press and Bookshop for publishing the book.
As one who was privileged to know, work alongside and enjoy the company of the man whom I always knew simply as Tom – and then to be honoured by his kind invitation to write a short Introduction to his autobiography – the present occasion brings back many fond memories of my late friend.
The first time we met and then worked together was when I taught for a short time at the Administrative College, soon after Tom was appointed a Training Officer there in 1965.
Our paths subsequently crossed as Tom took up a variety of senior positions in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as it then was – in the Immigration Division, and subsequently as Ambassador to the Philippines and High Commissioner to New Zealand – and, in between, as Acting Secretary for Defence.
Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare was a student at AdCol when Sir Tom and I first met there (I was replacing the late Sir Cecil Abel for a short time, while he was on leave). The Chief’s role in facilitating publication and now in launching the book adds very particular, personal meaning to the present occasion.
It also underlines a very important point: here we have a leader and author of one of the earliest books by a member of what is now widely known as the independence generation, Sana by Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, launching the story of another. It is additionally apt that the book is being launched at an institution where the late Sir Tom contributed much in his role as Warden of Students: UPNG.
Arise Sir Thomas is a valuable addition to the few works by Papua New Guineans on a critical period in Papua New Guinea’s modern history – the transition to independence and the subsequent government and development of the country.
It contributes to the history of the independence generation in a unique way. Others whose books we can read entered politics within a few years of leaving AdCol, as in the case of the Chief, and the late Sir Maori Kiki, or eventually went on to hold the highest public office in the country, as in the case of Sir Tom’s former colleague and friend, Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane, the author of more than 40 books of his own.
Sir Tom remained a public servant throughout, a man who was responsible for giving practical effect to such complex and sensitive matters as Papua New Guinea’s migration and citizenship laws, and managing such demanding, public assignments as the official opening of the National Parliament House in 1984.
Arise Sir Thomas book is a frank – at times, quite moving – account of the challenges of growing up in Manus and New Ireland; of the courage the future author displayed in objecting to the way in which he and fellow-students at Utu High School were treated (an incident also recalled in the Preface by another participant, Wasangula Noel Levi); and of taking up opportunities as they became available for Papua New Guineans seeking education and training.
The late Sir Tom’s experiences in this regard cover almost a checklist of the educational institutions available to his generation – as he went on to Kerevat, then Sogeri, the Central Medical School in Fiji, Port Moresby Teachers’ College, and then AdCol.
At various points in the book – and particularly at the end - Tom pays very moving tribute to the person who was alongside him, always providing support, from their marriage on 13 March 1965 until his untimely death.
It is the same person, Lady Ruby Ritako, who has kept working away to make the launching of your late husband’s autobiography possible. The achievement being celebrated today is very much due to Lady Ruby Ritako’s dedication, both during your late husband’s life and since.
May everyone privileged to attend this launching join in celebrating the life and partnership recorded in Arise Sir Thomas, and responsible for its publication.
May the extended family and friends of the late Sir Thomas Ritako find both fond memories and enjoyment in the occasion.
May the book be widely read by young Papua New Guineans and succeeding generations as a valuable record of the life of a man of integrity – a man of quiet conviction, consideration for others, and commitment to service.
Arise Sir Thomas is the autobiography of a proud Papua New Guinean who made a valuable contribution to the building of an independent Papua New Guinea. Its launching by Right Honourable Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare is an occasion for celebrating the life retold in the book.