William Samuel Willy, "McGyver" Macrae was farewelled at Paparore Marae yesterday with tears and laughter.
More than 500 people were there to say goodbye to a man they had loved and respected as a family member, a friend or a colleague.
And while all had known him in their own way, all agreed that they were farewelling a very special man much too soon.
William, 54, died when the helicopter he and pilot John "Prickles" de Ridder were using to search for people caught in last week's Karikari Peninsula fire crashed into the sea.
The esteem in which he was held was very clearly demonstrated yesterday. A bus load of DoC staff from Whangarei attended, while a Kaitaia DOC office colleague, Doug Te Wake, led manuhiri including Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson and Director-General of DoC Al Morrison on to the marae.
Kaitaia's Chief Fire Officer, Colin Kitchen, responded to the welcome on behalf of the Fire Service, which was represented by at least 30 officers, including National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield.
Alan Macrae told the congregation that he had hoped that it would be his younger brother who delivered his (Alan's) eulogy.
Educated in Kaitaia, where he initially worked as a mechanic, William met Jenny, his wife to be, in 1981. For reasons unexplained, he asked her to marry him while they were sitting on a bathroom floor. They ran Maitai Bay camp together until William became a permanent DoC employee in 1996. "Everywhere you go in the Far North you can see Willy's legacy, from the DoC toilets to walkways and signposts," Alan said.
His brother had been a complex, contradictory character, forthright and outspoken, a man who loved animals, especially dogs, and who had an obsession with guns.
A colleague had once, unwisely, asked Willy about guns on a long drive home, Willy responding with a "concise" dissertation that began in Kaeo and ended in Kaitaia.
"Don't ever mention guns to Willy," was the workmate's advice to Alan.
In recent years William had forged a special relationship with a Ngati Kuri kaumatua, which had helped him gain insight into Maori culture.
A man with a big heart who had left a big hole in the hearts of those who loved him, William would also be expecting his brother to take the opportunity to make a political statement. So he did.
Fire-fighters, DoC staff and all involved in the "fire situation up here" were tired and had had enough, he said.
"We are risking our lives, and we need to do something about it."