PAPUA New Guinea's former prime minister Sir Michael Somare was given a standing ovation today as he gave his farewell speech to parliament.
Yesterday MPs gathered for the conclusion of PNG's ninth parliament before it adjourned for the general elections in late June.
Sir Michael, who served this last five-year parliament term as East Sepik Governor after his ousting as prime minister in 2011, is one of the longest serving parliamentarians in the Pacific.
Tuesday 4 April marked exactly 49 years since Sir Michael first entered the House of Assembly in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea as a politician.
In his speech, Sir Michael, who turns 81 this week, said it had been a privilege to have served the people of Papua New Guinea.
"I practise national unity and I am proud to be called the father of the nation," said the man known in PNG as the 'Grand Chief'.
Highly respected throughout the Pacific Islands region, Sir Michael was instrumental in ushering PNG to independence from Australia in 1975, upon which he served as the country's first prime minister.
He told those assembled at parliament that the drive to gain independence was about proving PNG's indigenous people could rule themselves.
"I chose a life of challenges and service to my people; I always respect the true meaning of public service. It started as teacher, later on an information officer, a broadcast officer which gave the platform to convince the territory that we must become a country, not a dependent but a self- governing country," he said.
Sir Michael Somare served as PNG prime minister in three separate stints spanning a total of sixteen years.
The ousting, and subsequent election of Peter O'Neill as prime minister, was subsequently ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
However Sir Michael was effectively blocked by parliament's majority at the time from taking up his position again.
His re-election to parliament in the 2012 general elections was seen as vindication, and a sign of his huge popularity with people in his native East Sepik province and also all across PNG.
As one of the men who drew up PNG's constitution, Sir Michael spoke about the importance of supporting PNG's democratic institutions.
He challenged politicians to give prominence to issues of national interest rather than self-interest, and to respect parliament.
"I pray that members of parliament are present when parliament is in session so our people's challengers are discussed, and Standing Orders must be followed."
"When we swore to the Bible at Government House, we are promising that we are the servant to the people, it is important to be fit and healthy in this house, to know the importance of parliamentary systems," he said.
Formerly a radio broadcaster before he entered parliament, Somare forged a reputation as a charismatic leader with the gift of being able to connect with people where ever he went.
Sir Michael has been married to Veronica since 1965; they have six children.
"I am a man of principle, rules determine my conduct throughout my life, and I am blessed with a woman who has being my friend and guide since we were both young," he said.
Peter O'Neill also gave a speech at parliament in which he paid tribute to Sir Michael's guidance of PNG from being a colony to an independent state.
"He fought against intolerance and doubt, often based on racial bias, and told the world that Papua New Guinea could and would become an Independent State," said Mr O'Neill.
"His position was supported by so many eminent people of our nation, and he turned that support into a plan for independence."
Mr O'Neill said while he and Sir Michael did not always see eye to eye politically, he was grateful for the opportunity and grounding that the experience of working under Grand Chief gave him.
On behalf of all PNG MPs, Mr O'Neill expressed gratitude and best wishes to Lady Veronica and her support for Sir Michael, right throughout his long career in parliament.
"We will miss his wisdom and knowledge, and the experience that can only come from fourth-nine years of elected service," Mr O'Neill told parliament.
Before he drew the curtain on the Pacific's most remarkable political career, Sir Michael gave a message to young people of his country.
"To this generation of Papua New Guinea, I thank you all for your love and protection, I gave my best years to this country by serving as a politician, I hope each one of you will also contribute to our country."