NICHOLAS Jew Laki (15 October 1981 – 5 August 2017) was a gentle man who could also be stern and commanding when need be.
He was open-minded but also held strong Christian values and principles that defined boundaries.
He balanced generosity with a strong work ethic. He was a man of ideas who turned words and dreams into reality.
These contrasting qualities reflect Nick’s colourful journey through life.
Amidst the death and destruction of tribal warfare in the Mul District, Nick emerged into the world on 15 October 1981. Pastor Israel Laki learnt from prison, where he was facing charges related to tribal warfare, that he had a son called Nicholas who was born at Tinsley rural clinic in Baiyer.
As a child growing up along the Baiyer River gorge near the foot of the Mt Hagen range, Nick was curious about his local environment.
He wanted to know why the sun travelled across the sky and was amazed that the eyes could travel long distances compared to the hands and legs despite being small and stuck in the head.
Like all rural Papua New Guinean children, Nick loved to eat rice, as it was a novelty food item. The story goes that he and his big sister Penu would argue over who should be eating rice in the rice pot. This was because whoever got to eat rice in the rice pot also got to scrape the bottom of the pot for the burnt portion.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Nick attended Michael Arch community school. One of the jokes that Nick and the senior boys in community school had was that they’d marry girls born in the early 1990s and not those who were the same age as them.
Nick went on to Grade 7-10 at Kompolupa High School in the mid-1990s. He was dux of his graduating class and was selected to Mt Hagen Secondary School where he completed Grades 11 and 12.
Nick’s academic and leadership qualities were acknowledged by the school’s administration with him being given special awards by the principal.
Nick went on to study mechanical engineering at the University of Technology, graduating in 2002. In fact, he performed so well academically that he was picked up by Chevron-Oil Search well before he graduated.
Despite academic success, Nick remained grounded in the realities of life in PNG. He once told me about how he had to sleep at the wharf in Lae just to ship bags of kaukau to Port Moresby for his mum Sarah to sell and pay school fees. Even his dad had to fork out a fortune to buy him a laptop and printer while he was at Unitech in Lae.
Nick lived in a unique space where on one hand he was fully aware of hardships of Papua New Guineans whilst on the other hand as a graduate trainee at Kutubu he enjoyed the benefits of PNG’s oil and gas industry.
Nick would spend much of his time with Oil Search working in Queensland Australia and in Texas in the United States of America reading exploration data as part of his training.
He then took a two year break from work before joining Exxon Mobil
The rural boy from Ribika had crossed the treacherous Baiyer gorge and river and rubbed shoulders with the best in PNG and abroad. He had managed to do so not just from conventional education but also through his own ability to critically reflect on life.
Nick met the love of his life, Jemaima Gabarura, in 2012. The Oro lass was based in Lae while Nick was in Port Moresby. Theirs wasn’t just a physical attraction but a sacred meeting of souls – they were soul mates.
Nick flew to Lae in November 2012 to ask Jemaima’s parents if he could marry her. Jemaima’s mum wasn’t keen but her dad was supportive. Following months of discussion, arrangements were finalisd for their wedding. Nick and Jemaima were married on 13 July 2013.
The following year the happy couple had a son. Baby McPee was born on 11 April 2014.
By then, Nick had become a strategic advisor to the then opposition Leader Belden Namah. His hire car business was doing well and he had recruited me to assist in improving the opposition communications strategy.
With the change of opposition leadership towards the end of 2014, Nick saw an opportunity to exit to mainstream media. During his time as advisor to the opposition leader he saw the need for Papua New Guineans to be better informed about issues at the global, regional, national and local levels.
Nick wanted Papua New Guineans to be able to see the connections between government policy decisions and events in people’s personal lives. He created Eagle Times to empower Papua New Guineans through quality information.
Eagle Times was a legacy project; something he wanted people to remember him by. Its articles were of high standard, its graphic layout was done in Sydney and it was printed in China.
Unfortunately after the first issue which featured prominent business leader the late Simon Korua, Nick fell ill in December 2014.
In early 2015, major fundraising efforts from friends and kinsmen enabled him to seek treatment in Singapore where he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer with a poor prognosis. Doctors in Singapore gave him less than six months to live.
Nick and the family moved back home to Ribika after surgery and chemotherapy in Singapore. Although still recovering from surgery, Nick was keen on producing Eagle Times. For a few months, I lived at Kagamuga airport with Nick and the family where the last issue of Eagle Times were produced.
Nick survived an episode of tumour related illness in Mt Hagen and travelled to the Philippines for radiotherapy.
On 15 December 2015, Nima was born, her name derived from Nick = Ni and Jemaima = Ma. Nima is also known as Kondkul meaning “compassionate” because God was compassionate in giving Nick another child after brain surgery.
In 2016, Nick began rebuilding his life in the village. He built a road into the mountains and was cutting timber for his house in the forest. He seemed to have defied medical odds and life returned to some sense of normalcy.
Earlier this year Nick and the family had to move back to Port Moresby for economic reasons. They were joined there on 23 May by baby Nick Rupenti Laki Jnr, in his father’s eyes a miracle child who was conceived despite doctors warnings that the chemo and radiotherapy would cause infertility.
Nick’s condition was relatively stable until 23 June when he fell ill and was admitted to Port Moresby General Hospital. He succumbed to his illness on 5 August.
Even on his hospital bed with needles stuck in his veins and wires attached to his skin, Nick was a fighter. He came into the world at a time of war and survived the scourges of tropical illness. He defied all odds to become one of the most highly educated men from his tribe.
He analysed information from the depths of the earth’s crust and rubbed shoulders with business and political high flyers.
His legacy lives on through his wife and children and the many lives he has touched and influenced.
Nick left us a happy man not just in his earthly achievements but also in his heavenly reward. We find comfort in knowing that his saw heaven open to welcome him before he left us.
I would like to encourage us therefore to celebrate his life as much as we mourn his loss.
Live in eternal memory my bro. Lukim yu long sampela taim.