Devoted Harley-Davidson fan Gary McPhee saved the best to last -- taking his final ride yesterday as guest of honour at the head of hundreds of roaring motorcycles of all colours and all makes and models.
The funeral cortege for the former Carterton mayor took over the town as bikers from throughout New Zealand paid their respects to the man whose action-packed life leaned heavily on his love of motorbikes and all things mechanical.
Earlier an estimated 1500 people packed out the Carterton Events Centre and filled Holloway St to attend a celebration of Mr McPhee's life, with many Carterton people claiming the service was the largest funeral gathering in the town's history.
Fittingly, Mr McPhee's coffin was transported to Clareville Cemetery by the motorcycle hearse he himself had made, with his youngest son Jesse at the controls of a Harley-Davidson, of course.
Mr McPhee, 60, died at his rural Carterton home last Tuesday after a battle with depression and the pain of severe arthritis.
He was mayor of Carterton from 2004 until 2010 and was Wairarapa's sole councillor on Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) at the time of his death.
The service opened to Roger Miller's King of the Road, a song Mr McPhee loved and which reflected his passion for adventure and country music.
It closed with Leon Russell's rendition of Back to the Island.
In paying tribute to Mr McPhee, celebrant Norm Scirkovich -- who was Mr McPhee's brother-in-law -- spoke of the former mayor as a larger-than-life character who was a big man with an "even bigger heart".
He loved to "get stuck in and fix things" whether that was of a mechanical nature or to right things around town but was also a talented artist, a man of loyalty and a good friend.
Carterton mayor John Booth said Mr McPhee had a monumental effect on the town and was a man who did not fit the mould of what "leaders should do or look like".
"But that was what made Gary McPhee so bloody brilliant.
"He was the people's mayor who could cut through red tape and bullshit."
Mr Booth said Mr McPhee showed great vision and leadership and this had resulted in the building of the events centre "a facility we commissioned and which will prove to be his lasting legacy".
GWRC chairman Chris Laidlaw said Mr McPhee brought practical wisdom to the council table. "I will always be grateful for his contribution.
"He had a rare ability to read the mood, and to read people.
"Gary had rock-solid integrity," he said.
Ron Mark, who became Carterton mayor after Mr McPhee retired from the role, described Mr McPhee as a problem solver and a man who had stamped his presence "not just on Carterton, not just on Wairarapa but on the whole of the wider Wellington region".
Mr McPhee's two sons, Harley and Jesse, proclaimed their love for their father, and his sister Andrea Scirkovich told the gathering of the happy childhood Mr McPhee had enjoyed with his siblings.
David Mansfield, father of Sandy who was Mr McPhee's second wife, said he recalled Mr McPhee arriving at his home to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage after a whirlwind romance.
He said the huge man had filled the doorway and "what could I have been expected to say, especially as he was on his way to sort out gang members who had been harassing his boss".
Mr McPhee had been an advocate for mental health and at the service it was revealed he had been having trouble in several areas, being unable to sleep and losing his memory.
He had also endured constant pain in the last few years.
His son Harley said he had heard in the days after Mr McPhee's death that the manner in which it happened had been "selfish" but that it had been far from a selfish act.
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