A public memorial service for former All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu will be held at Auckland’s Eden Park on November 30, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said on Monday.
Lomu, who was awaiting a second kidney transplant and undergoing dialysis treatment, died unexpectedly last Wednesday aged 40 after battling a kidney disease for 20 years. He had only returned to New Zealand on Tuesday after having undertaken commercial obligations at the recent Rugby World Cup in England, won by the All Blacks.
“Jonah touched people’s lives across the country and around the world,” Key said in a statement.
“This service will be open to all members of the public who want to remember the significant contribution Jonah made, not only to rugby here and overseas, but also to the wider community through his work with charities.
“The service will be a celebration of Jonah’s life and I expect a large number of people will want to be there.”
A special ‘Aho Faka Famili’ [Day of the Family] event allowing people from the Pacific Islands to pay their traditional respects would be held on Saturday at an indoor venue in south Auckland before the Eden Park service, Key added. A private funeral service is to be held on December 1.
Lomu’s death last week plunged the rugby-mad nation into a state of disbelief, despite his well-publicised health issues. Widely considered the sport’s first global superstar, Lomu’s life was commemorated around the rugby world over the weekend with the Argentina team wearing jerseys with number 11 emblazoned on them as they warmed up for their clash with the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday.
Barbarians left winger Nemani Nadolo also blanked out the number 11 on the back of his jersey as a mark of respect for Lomu, who made several appearances for the invitational club side. A church service in Mangere, where Lomu grew up, was held on Sunday with his mother Hepi amongst the almost 1000 mourners who gathered to remember him.
“He will always be a son of Tonga and the Pacific,” local MP Sua William Sio told the service. “And he will always be a son of the South Side.”