Wahiao Raymond James (Jim) Gray grew up as the eldest son of a farmer halfway between Whakatane and Taneatua and that small town boy is now being recognised as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

As a high school student in Whakatane Mr Gray was one of only two Maori boys to get their school certificate.

"I was helping my dad on the farm when my neighbour came running up the drive very excited, saying 'I saw Jimmy got his school certificate, what is he going to do now?'," Mr Gray said.

"I remember without even looking up my dad just said 'he won't be bludging off me any more, he'll have to get a job, that's what'.

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"He could never see beyond the farm gate."

Mr Gray said he looked at the Army but didn't like the idea of all that walking and he got seasick so knew he couldn't join the Navy.

It was then that he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).

"I didn't have the faintest idea what I should do, nor was I given any guidance," he said.

"Looking back on the legal work I've been involved in I should have been a solicitor or a lawyer, but back then I didn't even know there was such an animal as a lawyer."

During his 26-year service in the RNZAF Mr Gray spent two tours in Singapore and Malaysia.

In 1991 he began his work in governance "trouble shooting" for the Maori Land Court.

He has since been appointed a professional trustee on close to 40 Maori authorities, and has become recognised as one of the foremost authorities on the workings of Maori trusts in New Zealand.

"The main philosophy I had is that Maori could do it, and then it was about setting out to prove they could," Mr Gray said.

Among other projects he spent 20 years working on the Tikitere Geothermal Development project for the construction of a geothermal power station which would eventually become the first and only 100 per cent Maori-owned power project in New Zealand.

"It took 20 years to get that thing together, trying to get arguing Maori to agree," he said.

"It's independently owned, so we virtually broke the mould."

Mr Gray developed and published Introduction to Governance of Maori Authorities in 1996, the only NZQA local approved book on the subject, and is currently a trustee for the NZTA Charitable Trust, the overseeing body for the Trustees Association.

He was the recipient of the Trustee of the Year Award in 1996 and the Trust of the Year Award in 1996 and 1997.

"Most of my career has been bringing ordinance to confusion," he said.

"The key thing was bringing a good team behind me in support."