Kupuna Wisdom: Queen’s Service Medal awardee and author “Johnny” Frisbie shares her story

Florence "Johnny" Frisbie was born and raised in the Cook Islands. As a young girl, her father taught her and her siblings English as well as their native languages. It was during this time that she would write chapters about her life in a mix of Pukapukan and English.

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These chapters would eventually become her children’s book “Miss Ulysses of Puka Puka,” making her the first published Pacific Islander woman ever in 1948. She would continue to write books and work in public service in Hawaii and New Zealand.

In 1991, Frisbie was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal by the government of New Zealand in recognition of her literary and public service achievements.

“I had a lot of help from the Cook Islands community. They said ‘It’s good, take it! Think of your family on Puka Puka, this little island. They’ll be so happy, they’ll be so proud as if it’s theirs,” she said.

Frisbie says that her commitment to public service comes from her genuine belief in the value of every person.

“I value people, no matter who,” she said. “No matter how ugly a person may be in his or her nature, I totally believe 100% that there’s beauty there.”