Whaea Putiputi O'Brien was born and raised in Te Teko. She trained at the Waikato Hospital School of Nursing from 1941-1945, and registered as a General and Obstetric Nurse at the Waikato Hospital in 1945. Whaea began her career as a public health nurse in her hometown of Te Teko in the days when the only way into the remote country areas was by horseback. She later did her maternity and Plunket training, and worked for more than 50 years in the eastern Bay of Plenty, central North Island and south Waikato areas.
"In those areas you were a jack of all trades, as you were the nurse, the doctor and a midwife" she said. On retiring from the Health Department, Putiputi worked in the area of Community Health with Midland Health as a District Health Co-ordinator and the manager of the Ngāti Awa ki Rangitaiki health initiative.
Whaea Putiputi has been a role model for nurses and long held a passion for nurses and nursing, particularly Māori nursing. She saw herself as a bridge between two worlds; Māori and non-Māori.
In 1987, she was awarded the Queen's Service Order for her contribution to a wide range of community and welfare organisations at local and national levels. She has been patron of Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori of Aotearoa since 1984, travelled with Māori nurses nationally and internationally and has been a participant in, and active supporter of the annual National Māori Student Nurse Hui.
Her passion for nursing has contributed greatly to the foundations of Hauora Māori. Her advice to new Māori nursing students remained the same after her long career: "Enter to learn, go forth to serve."