Kōtuku Tibble was teaching a high school class in 2016 when he suffered a cardiac arrest and died for 20 minutes. He survived, and this second chance at life spurred him on to continue championing te reo with new vigour.

Tibble believed his ancestors had sent him back to make peace with those he loved, and to leave a legacy. He returned to his marae in the Manawatū, to be "nourished by my language, my customs, my marae, by my genealogy and to give love to others." 

"One of my elders said, Māori knowledge, Māori language is a blessing of the mind," said Tibble. "I have been privileged to hear that knowledge and I want to protect it, enhance it, and put it in a safe place."

Born Te Teira Morehu Kōtukutuku Michael Tibble, he was one of 10 children raised in Johnsonville and Feilding by mum Olive, a remedial teacher at local boys' college Hato Paora, and dad Waho, a policeman. Tibble attended Hato Paora College before completing a teaching degree at Waikato University in 1989. After teaching in Hamilton he returned to Hato Paora College in 1992, as Head of Māori Studies. Over a 28 year teaching career, Tibble wore many hats: from senior lecturer at Unitec in Auckland, to tumuaki tuarua (deputy principal) at the Māori immersion school of Auckland marae Te Wharekura o Hoani Waititi. Tibble was known as a passionate teacher, writing songs, rhymes and rap to help win his students over to te reo. Many of his songs are still sung today.

Tibble moved from Wellington to Auckland in 2000, where he made his television debut co-hosting Manu Tīoriori, with Quinton Hita. The reality show saw the duo scouring the country to launch  Māori language pop group Aaria. The band made the top 20 music charts twice in 2001. Tibble went on to provide scripts and te reo advice on language learning show Pūkana, interviewed dozens of Māori elders for Māori Television series Ngā Reo o te Tairāwhiti, and commentated in te reo as part of the channel's coverage of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. He also commentated sports for Radio Waatea.

One of the productions he was most proud to have worked on was Māori TV documentary Te Kati: The Goethe Mystery (2014). Tibble's family believe one of their tipuna, Te Kati or John Gotty, was descended from German literary legend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the documentary, Tibble sets off for Germany in search of the answers. According to his wife Karen Te O Kahurangi Waaka-Tibble, the project was close to his heart; it paid tribute to his mother.

In 2017, Tibble was the subject of a Loading Docs short documentary Kōtuku Rerenga Rua. It focused on his brush with death the previous year, and how it had encouraged him to live life with new energy.  

Tibble had recently returned to Feilding to be a relief teacher when he died in September 2017. He is buried at Tokorangi Urupa in Halcombe near Feilding, and is survived by wife Karen, and his children, Hinetauira and Arana.

Profile written by Natasha Harris
Published on 31 January 2018

Sources include
Karen Te O Kahurangi Waaka-Tibble
Kotuku Rerenga Rua (Web Documentary) Directors Tim Worrall and Aaron Smart (2017) 
Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes, 'Kōtuku Tibble has passed away' Māori Television website. Loaded 25 September 2017. Accessed 31 January 2018
Lucy Townend, 'Old boy returns from world of TV' (Interview) - The Manawatū Standard, 5 February 2014
Unknown Writer, 'Documentary focuses on entertainer's 'second chance' - The Rotorua Daily Post, 7 March 2017
Unknown Writer, 'KT always ready with a good yarnRadio Waatea website. Loaded 25 September 2017. Accessed 31 January 2018