Former Prime Minister and statesman David Lange died last night, aged 63.
His brother Peter and son Roy were with him when he passed away peacefully at 10pm, and wife Margaret Pope quickly returned to Auckland's Middlemore Hospital after hearing the news.
Peter Lange said his brother's death came after a laboured week, but was earlier than the family had expected.
"It was very peaceful, surprisingly peaceful. He was, a little bit, trying to say things, [he was] a bit restless, and then I just happened to notice his breathing got very shallow and within five minutes it was over," he said.
He said his brother had found it difficult to talk much during the past week, but had managed a good chat on the telephone to his 9-year-old daughter Edith.
Sister Margaret Lange also said last night: "We've been all very relieved that he was comfortable and free of pain in these last few days. But it doesn't make it any easier."
As the sad news slowly spread around the world, friends, former colleagues and adversaries struggled to find words to adequately pay tribute to him.
Helen Clark said she was greatly saddened . "Obviously right now our thoughts are with David's family and friends ... His lasting contribution will be his advocacy for a nuclear-free New Zealand, which remains as relevant today as it was in the 1980s when his government adopted it."
Former Labour Finance Minister Roger Douglas, who banged heads with Mr Lange over his flat tax proposal, said he was "a truly exceptional prime minister".
"He oversaw fundamental change to the New Zealand economy which brought with it considerable benefits. His intellect, wit and ability to get to the heart of issues will be sadly missed."
Former Labour Cabinet minister Michael Bassett, who Mr Lange once described as "venomous', said Lange was a multi-talented man whose political life was an enigma, full of triumphs and tragedies. "He was lovable at his best, and confusing to friends and foes at his worst."
Friend and journalist Tom Scott said he was an impressive man. "He was incredibly brave and cheerful and dignified. But he said to me, 'I won't be leaving here'. He was so at peace with himself that you had to think this was a man who knew what he was facing."
Mr Lange is survived by wife Margaret; children Roy, Byron, Emily and Edith.
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