Ropiha was the son of Reginald Pinckney, an English clerk, and Mihi Mere Panapa. He was the tamaiti whangai of Hori Ropiha and Erina Te Nepi Apatu.
After finishing school he joined the junior civil service in the Public Works Department, but when the opportunity arose, he became an apprentice surveyor. He fought in France during World War I and was wounded. In 1919 he returned to the civil service as a surveyor.
He worked his way up the civil service to become an under-secretary in the Department of Maori Affairs from 1948 to 1957. During his tenure he completely reorganized the department and tackled the large backlog of unfinished work relating to land issues. He supervised the return to Maori control of nearly 300,000 acres of land. He was also involved with the Maori magazine Te Ao Hou, the Maori Women's Welfare League, and Maori education.
He married and had two children; his daughter, Rina, was probably the first woman Maori doctor.
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