Ngati Hine man Rob Cooper has been described as a lifelong champion of kaupapa Maori, a catalyst for change and a cherished father and koro.

Robin John Cooper, known as Rob, died overnight Monday.

He held many roles throughout his lifetime and was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2015 in recognition of his contribution to Maori health, education and development over the past 30 years.

Ngati Hine Health Trust chairman Gwen Tepania-Palmer said Mr Cooper was a "catalyst for change" who was as much at home around the boardroom tables of universities, district health boards and international institutions as he was around the wharekai tables of Motatau Marae.

Advertisement

"While he was too humble to ever make such comparisons, to us who knew him well, Rob was in the mould of his illustrious tupuna Kawiti and Hongi Hika, and more recently Sir James Henare.

"He was a statesman, and diplomat, a deep thinker and towering intellect, a leader in battle and in peace, a man of the people and a cherished father and koro," she said.

A founding trustee of the Ngati Hine Health Trust in the early 1990s, Mr Cooper became the trust's first chief executive in 2005 after four years as executive in residence at the University of Auckland's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

Mr Cooper retired from operational management of the trust in 2013 due to ill health, but continued to mentor and support the organisation in his role as emeritus executive, Ms Tepania-Palmer said.

Ngati Hine leader Pita Tipene said Mr Cooper was always pushing for change. "He was a great man. He was a very loving man and a very family-orientated man. As a true leader, he was always trying to foster the leadership of the young people.

"He leaves a huge legacy. He had a real passion for improving the circumstances of his people," he said.

Mr Cooper was general manager of Maori health in the Northern Regional Health Authority and its successor, the Health Funding Authority, in the 1990s. He chaired the Maori reference group for Housing New Zealand and oversaw the development of social housing in Moerewa.

In 2012, he oversaw the internationally acclaimed Te Mirumiru Early Childhood Education Centre in Kawakawa.

Mr Cooper will travel to Motatau Marae in the Bay of Islands today ahead of his burial at Takapuna Urupa later in the week.