Ratana Church executive committee chairman Karaka Waka Paama will be fondly remembered for his strength, dignity and kindness, Adrian Rurawhe says.

Mr Paama died on Thursday, aged 76.

Yesterday Mr Rurawhe, a fellow Ratana Church member and Te Tai Hauauru MP, was speaking to the Chronicle from a barge on the way to Tauranga's Matakana Island for Mr Paama's tangi. He was one of a small group that had travelled through the night with family members, returning Mr Paama to his home marae.

Mr Rurawhe met the Ratana Church apotoro (minister) as a 17-year-old, when they were both working for New Zealand Railways.

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He said Mr Paama was brought up in a Ratana family and moved to Whanganui about 40 years ago. He lived in various places and did various paid jobs - but the church was his main focus. All the work he did for it was voluntary and unpaid.

He joined its executive at least 30 years ago, and held many major positions, most recently as its secretary and for the last seven years as its chairman, second only to president Harerangi Meihana.

He was also a member of Maori King Tuheitia's Kahui Wairua - the group giving the king spiritual advice - and was well known in other church circles in Whanganui. The Maori and New Zealand First parties have both paid tribute to him.

In the Ratana Church he was valued as a steady pair of hands, Mr Rurawhe said. "He carried out all of his work with such dignity. But he was very firm as well. He never let anything get in the way of his faith and the work that he was charged with doing."

Mr Paama carried out several reviews to improve the running of the church, and he got on well with people.

"He was incredibly good at making sure that everyone's opinion was heard, and he also was able to execute those findings."

Mr Rurawhe wanted to acknowledge Mr Paama's wife Irene, and family, because they allowed him to dedicate so much time to the church.

"I don't know how he found time for his wife, children and grandchildren and all the things that he did."

He expected the tangi to bring thousands of people to Mr Paama's home marae on Matakana Island.