Rina Winifred Rōpiha was born in Auckland on 6 April 1923, the elder of two children of Rhoda Winifred Tūruki Walker of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and her husband, Tipi Tainui Rōpiha of Ngāti Kahungunu and Rangitāne. Rina’s father was a qualified surveyor, who later became the first Māori to be appointed under-secretary of the Department of Māori Affairs. Her mother, a nurse who had worked with Māori in remote rural areas, was a perfectionist and ran a highly organised and efficient household. Rina enjoyed a comfortable childhood in Remuera, and until she was eight had an English nanny. After school she studied ballet, elocution, ballroom dancing and piano.
Her parents made great sacrifices to provide their children with educational opportunities. Discipline was strict, and Rina was under pressure to study hard and do well. She was expected to be a leader of the Māori people, and to use her skills and knowledge for the benefit of the community. She occasionally visited marae with her adored father, but was at times uncomfortable with being held up to Māori as an example of achievement.
In 1941 Rina entered the University of Otago to study medicine. On 21 February 1944, in Dunedin, she married Ian Leslie Moore, a law student from Nelson; their first child was born in August 1945. The couple’s finances were stretched, but both families provided assistance. Her mother, Rhoda, stayed in Dunedin for six months to help Rina continue her studies. To complete the clinical section of her degree, she commuted to Wellington during the week, while her husband and two-year-old daughter stayed with her mother-in-law, Ruby Moore, in Nelson. It was a difficult year, particularly in an era when women were encouraged to focus on the home and family. The Moores were a close-knit extended family, and Ruby was an important mentor to Rina.
After graduating MB, ChB in 1949 (reputedly the first Māori woman to do so), Rina Moore began work as an assistant medical officer at Ngāwhatu Mental Hospital in Nelson. Her interest in psychiatry began during a class visit to Seacliff Mental Hospital, where she instinctively reached out to a patient who had committed murder. Her ability to recognise the essential humanity in each person, and to connect with it, particularly if the person was in trouble, was central to her work. She had a great compassion for the sick and handicapped, and a special gift for helping those who were unable to help themselves. At Ngāwhatu, Moore worked primarily with the female patients. She also attempted to break down public fears and prejudices about mental illness. Convinced that the mentally ill needed to be accepted within the community, she helped establish links between the hospital and community groups.
Rina Moore was intelligent, articulate and vivacious, and an outstanding communicator. In the 1950s she became sought after as a public speaker, and was outspoken on a number of controversial issues. For example, she strongly advocated education about sex and relationships in schools, and was one of the first doctors in New Zealand to prescribe the contraceptive pill in the early 1960s. From the late 1950s she was invited to take part in a series of hui, including the 1959 Young Māori Leaders’ Conference in Auckland, to discuss issues such as urbanisation, crime, mental health and education. In later years she realised that, like many urban Māori, she had missed out on much of her heritage. Despite many attempts, however, she never mastered the language.
Moore worked at Ngāwhatu for 15 years, and was medical officer in charge of the women’s section for some time. However, men had been promoted above her, her health was poor and her career prospects were also restricted by her lack of a postgraduate degree. This would have required several years of overseas study, an impractical option for a mother with four children (a daughter and three sons), and a husband who was tied to his legal practice in Nelson. In 1963 she resigned and, assisted by a scholarship, travelled to Europe and Asia, visiting places such as Kathmandu and Moscow.
On her return to Nelson, Moore set up a private family advisory clinic in her home. Her children recalled arriving home from school to find that their playroom was now a waiting room full of patients, and their mother in consultation in the living room. In 1966, however, she was diagnosed with cancer of the breast and lymph nodes. Against medical advice she refused to have her breast removed, but agreed to tumour removal and radiotherapy. Fearful of dying in pain, from this time she began to suffer bouts of depression.
Rina Moore presented four papers at the fourth International Congress of Social Psychiatry in Israel in 1972, dealing with issues of particular concern to Māori and other ethnic minorities: urban migration, education, health and mental health. On her return home she worked part time at her clinic. As her feelings of frustration grew, she began drinking heavily. However, she gradually re-established her private practice, and in her spare time took up golf, photography and writing.
In 1975 Rina Moore suffered a mild stroke, and it was soon apparent that the cancer had returned, this time in her brain. She died in Nelson on 28 November that year, aged 52. She was survived by her husband and children.