The Tourism Industry Council president was feeling unwell and out of breath on Sunday so the hospital admitted her for observation, but late on Monday she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and passed away.
Her husband Tom Vea, her sister Diane Fletcher, and Tom's sister Lotu were at her side. Her two daughters Ruby and Lile were in New Zealand with family.
Friends and colleagues remember Fletcher-Vea as a caring and compassionate leader for Cook Islands’ hundreds of tourism operators, and her dedication was reflected when she was re-elected last year for another term as president.
The family wish to invite friends and colleagues to a service at 4pm tomorrow, at the family resort she ran, Manuia Beach Resort in Arorangi.
Diane Fletcher, who owns the Vibe café and food van, said her sister was passionate and caring, and stood up for her principles. Sue, Diane and their sister Karyn first lived in Cook Islands as children, when their dad was working for the Post Office.
All three have returned as adults – Sue and her Tongan husband Tom have been here 15 years.
At Sue and Tom’s home in Arorangi today, Diane told how family came first for her: she was “a fiercely loyal Mama Bear” to her daughters Ruby and Lile, and her many feeding children.
“And it literally was feeding them! All these kids came to Sue and she fed them, clothed them, drove them around, put them through school.”
The 52-year-old Fletcher-Vea has spoken out on issues like the importance of helmets in saving lives, and valuing expat workers by not capping their work permits – but she’s also championed employing locals.
Beyond family, the former travel agent was also passionate about her business Manuia Beach Resort and local tourism, and was herself a keen traveller. She had hoped, when travel resumed, to spend time at a Buddhist retreat in Burma.
Close friend Adrian Hopwood said: "Time was never an issue when it came to friends, my very special coffee friend and confidante."
And Louise Wittwer remembered “Sue's most beautiful smile”.
“She lit up the room wherever she went, and she was the bestest mother, darling sister, gorgeous wife and stunning daughter ... my heart is broken for the amazing Fletcher/Vea family, we have lost a legacy!”
Rebecca Brown said: “Sue was so involved, her passion and commitment to this beautiful country was unsurpassable, I will miss her dearly.”
It’s hoped Tom Vea and Diane Fletcher will be allowed to travel with her to New Zealand on this Friday's flight; if so, they may have to go into quarantine for two weeks, before they can farewell her.
Others in Cook Islands will remember her at tomorrow’s service at Manuia Beach Resort. Sabine Janneck described her as “the sunshine in others’ hearts”.
And Fletcher Melvin, who worked closely with her on the Private Sector Taskforce and Chamber of Commerce, said: “Sue was a kind and hard-working lady who loved the Cook Islands and I'll miss her and my sincere condolences go out to her family and work colleagues.”