Former leading health boss Dr Ian McPherson has died aged 66.

Dr McPherson was chief executive of Southern Cross Healthcare - the country's biggest health insurer - from 2002 to 2014.

A testament to his expertise was his 2013 appointment as president of the International Federation of Health Plans (iFHP).

Founded in 1968 by health plan industry leaders, iFHP is the leading global network in the industry, with more than 100 member companies from 25 countries. They made him an Honorary Life Member in May.

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Southern Cross chairman Greg Gent paid tribute to Dr McPherson.

"Ian worked tirelessly for the healthcare industry," Gent said. "With Southern Cross, he brought a lot of experience, knowledge and respect to the health insurance sector nationally and internationally.

"On a personal note, he was a passionate family man. He was devoted to his wife, children and grandchildren and he certainly embodied this ethos within the Southern Cross family. He will be sorely missed."

Dr McPherson started his career as a GP in Thames where he also practiced in anaesthetics and obstetrics.

In the 1980s he worked for the International Red Cross and was the first non-Swiss to be appointed as Medical Coordinator, initially serving on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. He subsequently worked with refugees on the Thai/Cambodian border and with Vietnamese boat people in Malaysia.

Upon his return to New Zealand, he held roles as chief executive of the Bay of Plenty Health Board, worked in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, for the Ministry of Health, as executive chairman for Aetna Health and as regional general manager of health for Allianz Asia Pacific Ltd.

He was on the nominating committee for the Guardians of NZ Superannuation Fund, and held director positions on the boards of Work and Income, the New Zealand Insurance Ombudsman Commission and Board, Mercy Angiography, Southern Cross Hospitals, Southern Cross Benefits and NZ Red Cross National Board. His most recent appointments were as interim chief executive for Hutt Valley and Wairarapa District Health Boards which he stood down from in 2015 due to illness.

He passed away at home on Wednesday, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife Rosemary, their six children and 11 grandchildren.

A service to celebrate Dr McPherson's life will be held at St Matthew-in-the-City, Cnr. Wellesley and Hobson Streets, Auckland, on Monday at 11am.