A man who grew up with an abusive father and used to beat others before turning his life around, has died from a heart attack.

Jason Hotere, a father of two girls, went on to help others and worked as a counsellor at St Peter's College in Auckland.

His death at age 50 has left the community in "absolute shock".

Hotere went to work at the college as normal on Tuesday and died that evening.

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"We are in absolute shock," said college principal James Bentley.

"We found out yesterday morning when we came into school and everyone was really shocked.

"We called an emergency meeting for our staff and informed our boys first thing via a special assembly."

The college's pastoral team worked with a team from neighbouring Auckland Grammar School to provide counselling in the college chapel and held a special church service for Hotere at lunchtime.

In a YouTube video made about seven years ago, Hotere spoke about how his father abused his wife and children and he went on to bully others.

"The way that my dad got mana, was by physical abuse and verbal abuse. That's how I thought I needed to treat people. That's how I thought I needed to get mana. So I would go to school and beat people... and people used to run from me. But that's how my dad would treat me.

"And then this little Pakeha sheila came up to me. She saw beyond my mask... I went out with this girl for five years, because she said the three words that I wanted to hear through my whole family, 'I love you'.

"I usually got the words that my dad always kept ringing in my ear 'I hate you, you're stupid, you're dumb, you're hopeless'."

Hotere also described wanting to kill himself.

At that moment, a friend rang and said Jesus had woken him and told him to call Jason. Hotere became a Christian that night, November 26, 1989, when he was 23.

He joined an "Extreme Team" at Youth With A Mission, which ran shows around the world performing feats of strength such as lifting cars and bending steel rods.

He met his Brazilian wife Tatiana in Youth With A Mission and their daughters, Taimane and Kiana, are aged 15 and 13.

Hotere was described as a "mighty Christian totara".

Friends and former colleagues from Youth With A Mission, where Hotere served for most of his adult life, have posted tributes on Facebook.

"A mighty Christian totara has fallen and we are all lost to know how to feel or what to say," wrote Steven Duncan from Papua New Guinea.

Former student Jordan Makisi wrote: "Sir stood up for the little guy, heard the unheard and voiceless, and healed the hurt. He understood. So who do we go to now? Jason was a father figure to me and many others, helping me transition from a troubled young boy to a man (still happening)."

Former Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Alasdair Thompson, a colleague in the Upper Room Church in Newmarket, wrote: "I have thought hard about this: Do I know a better man, a kinder, more loving and caring man; one with a better sense of humour? No, I don't."

Upper Room senior pastor Dr Craig Heilmann said Hotere shared in the church about a month ago about the way his father always told him that he was "worthless".

"He overcame that in terms of what he was for other people. The guy was a giant to us, he just gave so much to our community," he said.