The death of a former diplomat and avid supporter of New Zealand art will leave a huge hole in Wellington's artistic scene, and in the loving family he's left behind.

Tim Francis, 87, a former representative to the United Nations (1978-1982) and ambassador to the United States (1982-1992), died in Wellington on Saturday.

His eldest son, Paul Francis, said his father's death was hard for the family, particularly for his mother, Sherrah.

"They had a magical relationship for 65 years."

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Despite having been diagnosed with cancer a year ago, Paul Francis said his father spent his last few days enjoying the festive season, with his family and the "biggest Christmas tree" they'd ever had.

"The night before he died, we watched the ball drop [for the New Year] in New York on TV and broke out the Champagne."

Mr Francis will be farewelled at a service in Wellington's St Peter's Church in Willis St on Thursday at 2pm.

As well as his wife and eldest son, he has left behind his two daughters, Sarah and Emma and two grandchildren, Zachary and Sophie.

Immediately prior to his retirement in 1992, Mr Francis served as an ambassador to the United States.

This was not long after New Zealand had decided to go nuclear-free in the mid-1980s -- a decision which tested the Kiwi-American relationship.

Mr Francis was recognised as having been crucial in maintaining a connection with the Americans at a time when the ANZUS [Australia New Zealand and United States] Treaty broke down.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Prime Minister from 1989 to 1990, described Mr Francis, in his book, Reform: A Memoir, as a "subtle and clever operator in diplomacy" who had a "fine Italian hand".

"He and Colin Keating were my closest advisers in these forays into foreign policy," wrote Sir Geoffrey.

Born in Auckland in 1928, Mr Francis studied English, history and political science at the University of Auckland where he met his wife and started their 65-year-long relationship.

Paul Francis said his career "speaks so clearly to his dazzling intelligence" but that was just one side of his father.

"He was a loving person, a wonderful husband to my mother, a great father and a loving grandfather," he said. "He always had fun and made sure others did too."

Paul Francis said despite living the "glamorous life" of a diplomat his father never forgot his humble beginnings -- as the son of a solo mother, a working class Englishwoman who had migrated to New Zealand before he was born.

"He lived a glamorous life with posts around the world ... but he never forgot those roots and lived a modest life."

His parents' one "luxury" in life was the art they loved so much.

Both were well-known on the Wellington art scene, having moved to the capital many years ago to set up their home and start a family.

"They loved New Zealand art, because it spoke so uniquely to New Zealand's heart and passions," said Mr Francis.

Art blog, Over the Net, said there weren't many openings or talks where the couple didn't make an appearance.

"It is hard to believe we will never see them again as a couple coming up the stairs at 147 Cuba St, standing around the rest of us at openings or ushering us around their collection in Talavera Terrace."