In death, as in life, David Lange is contradiction writ large.

The sunny public figure with a sad, private side, the former Prime Minister shaped a New Zealand sense of nationhood, yet spurned a public farewell.

At his family's request there will be no state funeral for David Russell Lange, the 32nd Prime Minister, who was the face of radical change in the 1980s before calling for a "cup of tea".

His wife, Margaret Pope, told the Herald last night that her husband had made plans for his funeral.

"He had a number of wishes as to its contents and the form of it - a local, private service for family. These are entirely his wishes and that's what I'm going to do."

She would not comment on the date or location of the service or who would speak at it. She did not rule out the possibility of a public memorial service.

"But I haven't thought beyond the private service."

Prime Minister Helen Clark said yesterday that it was important to respect the family's wishes.

"I think at a later stage we can talk about a memorial service, because I think his many friends would like to be able to do that."

State funerals are held for Governors-General or Prime Ministers who die in office. Former Prime Ministers can be given official Government funerals following liaison with the family.

In the streets of his electorate and in the corridors of power, tributes flowed yesterday after 63-year-old Mr Lange's death in Middlemore Hospital on Saturday night.

He was remembered for his charismatic qualities and humanity as much as for his part in the sweeping social changes of the Rogernomics he came to denounce.

But his part in that chapter of New Zealand's history and his staunch anti-nuclear stance, which Labour carries into the election campaign as a core policy, ensures his place in history is undisputed.

His own view of that place appeared ambivalent, torn between pride in the position he attained and regret at how his Government tore itself apart, leading to his resignation as leader in 1989.

The parallel and very public collapse of his first marriage to Naomi Lange, whom he left for his then speechwriter, the intensely private Ms Pope, also underscored the dichotomy of a life lived in the public eye but whose costs were kept close to home.

In his autobiography, published this month, Mr Lange spoke of how he had reconciled with his first wife, took pride in his children and, during his long illness, made his peace with his political colleagues-turned- foes such as Richard Prebble and Roger Douglas.

He spoke in the book, David Lange: My Life, of how he valued every moment of his time as Prime Minister and from the first to the last was proud to have a job that was often exhilarating and moving.

"The job gave me unimagined opportunities and equally unanticipated responsibilities.

"It will be plain from the book," he said, "that what I actually did in the job was sometimes a matter of satisfaction and sometimes not, but the job itself was far more than I ever wished for when I first imagined myself in it."

Mr Lange, who led New Zealand through five tumultuous years of political transition from 1984, passed away peacefully at 10pm on Saturday. He had endured years of ill health and had been battling diabetes complications in Middlemore for a month.

He died with his brother, Peter, and son Roy at his bedside. Ms Pope had spent the day at his side before returning to the Mangere Bridge family home she, Mr Lange and 9-year-old daughter Edith shared.

His other children, Byron and Emily, live in England.

Mr Lange suffered from the rare blood disease amyloidosis. He had been on dialysis. His right leg was amputated on August 2.

He lapsed into unconsciousness on Friday and the family knew he then had only days or hours left.

He eventually succumbed to renal failure.