Joyce Ryan, who was Whangarei's first female mayor, has died at the age of 95.

Gladys Joyce Ryan, nee Cooper, was mayor from 1983-89 and spent nine years as a councillor on Whangarei and Northland Regional Councils.

Mrs Ryan was at the helm of the Whangarei council and showed her mediation skills through the difficult local government amalgamation of 1989.

Her contribution to the community was honoured by Whangarei District Council in 2009 at a function where the 20 different organisations Mrs Ryan had worked with represented only some of those she had helped.

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In 1989, during the city's Silver Jubilee, under her leadership the council created an annual $15,000 art acquisition fund, which was at the foundation of Whangarei Art Museum's development and growth.

Mrs Ryan helped get the Whangarei Youth Centre off the ground in the 1980s and was the centre's only life member.

She supported the model vintage railway at Tawera Park then later at Whangarei's Heritage Park, and was the club's first patron.

She was known as "Aunty Joyce" among Special Olympians throughout New Zealand, and was one of the people who started Northland Special Olympics.

Joyce Ryan at a special function to honour her for contribution to the community by then mayor Stan Semenoff in 2009. Photo/John Stone
Joyce Ryan at a special function to honour her for contribution to the community by then mayor Stan Semenoff in 2009. Photo/John Stone

Her support included sewing uniforms the Northland team wore to the first national Special Olympic Games in Lower Hutt, and several stints as team manager or chaperone.

Mrs Ryan was the founding chairwoman of Friends of Limestone Matakohe Island, playing a vital role in the revegetation and subsequent development of the kiwi creche.

She was a strong advocate for women, and for community development which led to her role as a trustee of Northland Business Development Trust.

She was followed as mayor by Stan Semenoff.

Mr Semenoff said he remembered when mayor Ted Elliot stood down Mrs Ryan put her hand up. Someone told her it was a man's job "and Joyce said, 'Yes, and I'm just the man for the job'."

Since Mrs Ryan's time in office, two other women have been mayor, Pamela Peters and Sheryl Mai.

Mrs Ryan was the mother of three daughters, and had 12 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

A Memorial Service will be held at Newberry's Funeral Home in Whangarei this Thursday, July 20, at 2.30pm.