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Neighbour remembers deceased Kiwi as a loving friend

An 81-year-old neighbour of an elderly Maori man who was found dead in a motel at Lotopa, remembers him as a loving friend to her and her children. 

Toeupu Taua Ufagalilo of Avondale, New Zealand and Faga Savai’i has lived nextdoor to William James Ranga, who died at the Rita’s Lodge on Sunday afternoon. 

Speaking from New Zealand, Mrs. Ufagalilo told the Samoa Observer that the news of Mr. Ranga’s death, who was known to her children and neighbours as Bill, came as a shock to them.

She said her 70-year-old Maori friend had no relatives or visitors to his home. 

"Ever since we moved here in 2009 I have not seen any relatives of Bill or family that would come to visit him," she said. 

"He only had friends. Since we learned about his death we have not seen anyone stopping by his home..."

The elderly mother said Bill is someone who was hard to forget. 

 “Whenever he goes somewhere he always gives us the spare key to his house and would give us papers with information of where he is going and how to contact him," she said. 

“My children miss him because when he knows my children at home he would stop by with handful of groceries and goodies for them.” 

Mr. Ufagalilo said she suspected something happened when she did not see him at his home after two weeks. 

She recalled he had left for Samoa, as he told her he will be gone for two weeks. 

“It was one of my children that called his number in Samoa on Tuesday [this week] and someone else answered the phone,” said the elderly woman. 

“Not long after we received a call from the New Zealand Police asking us if we were aware of what had happened to Bill. We then learned about the tragic news of his sudden death.”

According to the neighbour, Bill had told her that he will be in Samoa for two weeks. 

However, they were informed he had extended his stay to four weeks. 

In tears, Mrs. Ufagalilo said although Bill was not family, “he treated my children like his own and had cared for me”. 

She recalled that when her family first migrated to New Zealand in 2009, Bill had helped her and her children ever since. 

“He was just a really good old man that offered help when we didn’t ask from him,” she added. 

“If I leave the house and forgot to close the gate he will be the one that closes it for me. 

“Sometimes I would see him outside mowing our lawn and we didn’t even ask him to do it…he was kind and loving.” 

She added Bill had undergone a heart operation some months ago before he left for Samoa. 

Mrs. Ufagalilo said she is yet to hear back from the authorities on what will happen to Bill’s body and other arrangements. 

She hopes they will be informed of the details so she and her children can pay their last respect for a very caring old friend. 

Spokesperson for Rita’s Lodge, Ezra Schwalger said the deceased man checked in at the motel on December 22, 2019 and was scheduled to check out on January 20, 2020.

He said Police were contacted on Sunday afternoon after Mr. Ranga was discovered lying on the floor of his room.

He said a member of the Maori man’s host family came to the Lodge to find the deceased when he did not turn up to a family to’onai on Sunday. 

A member of the host family, Ulia Aiulu, from Malie said the deceased is a family friend who regularly comes to Samoa to visit his older brother who resides in Australia.  

According to Ulia, they were expecting Mr. Ranga on Sunday for to’onai. But he did not turn up. 

His older brother then went to the Lodge to look for him.

He confirmed that a representative from Rita’s Lodge had given his brother the key to Mr. Ranga’s room when he did not open the door. 

“He was my older brother’s friend and he was family to us,” said Ulia. 

“He often stays with our family at Malie when he comes to Samoa but this time he said he wanted to stay at Rita’s Lodge. 

“His routine since he arrived is that he comes to Malie every morning and goes back to Lotopa at night for a rest.” 

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