Former deputy mayor dies

By Laurel Stowell, Anne-Marie McDonald -
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Rangi Wills greets Prince Harry at Putiki Marae in 2015.
Rangi Wills greets Prince Harry at Putiki Marae in 2015.

Former Whanganui deputy mayor Rangi Wills has died.

Mr Wills died on Monday night, at home with his family. He had been in the care of Hospice Wanganui for two weeks.

Mayor Hamish McDouall said Mr Wills had been diagnosed with cancer about two years ago, and had been treated successfully for it.

"He indicated that he had got on top of it, but obviously not."

Mr McDouall said during his six years as a councillor he had got to know Mr Wills well, and had respected him for his "quiet dignity".

"He was a gentleman. He never lost his rag, but he always gave of his wisdom. He wanted the best for Whanganui."

Mr McDouall said the council's extraordinary meeting, due to begin at 9am on Tuesday morning, had opened with a karakia and a minute's silence in honour of Mr Wills.

"We adjourned it at that point. My heart just wasn't in it today," a visibly upset Mr McDouall said.

Mr Wills was voted on to the council in 2004, and was chosen as then-mayor Annette Main's deputy in 2010. He served one term as deputy mayor.

He had a 12-year unbroken run as councillor, but was not re-elected at the latest elections in October.

The Tupoho Working Party meeting at 3.30pm on Wednesday has been cancelled as a result of the death. Instead councillors will take the time to go to Putiki Marae, where Mr Wills will be lying.

Putiki Marae committee chairman Hone Tamehana said Mr Wills had his beginnings there, before leaving for a Fire Service career that spanned 34 years, with the last six in very senior positions.

He returned to Putiki in his sixties, to reconnect with the marae and the Takarangi, Metekingi, Bailey and Te Tauri families. He also reconnected with his Māori side, canoeing the Whanganui River every year with the Tira Hoe Waka and taking part in the marae's mau rākau programme.

He took on many roles, including being a Justice of the Peace. He chaired Putiki's marae committee at one stage, also getting involved with Rotary, the Wanganui Ratepayers' Association, the Hospice Wanganui board, the Pakaitore Trust and the Tikanga Māori house of Whanganui Regional Museum.

"He played a lot of significant roles for the betterment of himself and Māoridom.

"He was invaluable. He will be sadly missed. Our thoughts go to [Mr Wills' wife] Shirley and the children," Mr Tamehana said.

Former mayor Annette Main worked closely with Mr Wills during her first term in office.

"When I first came in [as mayor] I looked to him as someone with experience, who I could trust, and who would give good advice. He certainly filled that role," Ms Main said.

She said he was a man who was "always there when you needed him".

Whanganui deputy Mayor Jenny Duncan said Mr Wills was a "lovely, respectful gentleman".

"He was very, very commited to Whanganui and he always did things with great dignity."

Councillors had hoped he had beaten the cancer, and were terribly saddened by his death, she said.

Councillor Helen Craig said Mr Wills kept the council in touch with Māori sentiments, despite specifically saying he was representing everyone. He had felt strongly on the issue of spelling Whanganui with an "h", which had made her stop and think.

"He was a true gentleman, and a calming influence around the council table," she said.

Councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan was shocked to hear of Mr Wills' death, because he liked sport and looked after his health. She hadn't been told he was ill, but had noticed some absences during the last term of council.

Former councillor Ray Stevens had been a colleague of Mr Wills during Mr Wills' entire term on council.

Mr Stevens described him as "a quiet people's champion".

"He was always interested in what the ordinary person wanted, and how the Whanganui ratepayer would be affected by the decisions council made."

Both unsuccessful in their attempts to regain their council seats in October, Mr Stevens said he and Mr Wills had commiserated with each other by phone on the day of the election.

"He had a very subtle sense of humour, and we shared the odd email joke from time to time. He will be missed."

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