Keith 'Nobby' Clarke, former Tauranga mayor, Arataki Primary School principal and "larger than life figure" has died, aged 87.

Mr Clarke, credited with bridging the gap between Tauranga and the Mount in a confrontational time, died in the early hours of Thursday.

He was adored by many and friends and family couldn't help but laugh as they remembered the pipe-smoking, golf-playing "good bugger".

After retiring as headmaster at Arataki Primary School for 20 years Mr Clarke became the first mayor of the Tauranga District Council in 1989 - a newly amalgamated council which hauled Mount Maunganui Borough Council, Papamoa and Bethlehem in with the city.

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Nobby had this very deep baritone voice and he was had this ability to stare at people and talk in a loud stern voice and they would sort of crumble in front of him.

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"The only good news out of the amalgamation for Mounties was that Nobby became the first mayor," friend and fellow councillor Wayne Moultrie said.

Mr Moultrie was the Mayor of Mount Maunganui Borough Council with Mr Clarke as his deputy before the amalgamation.

"Nobby had this very deep baritone voice and he had this ability to stare at people and talk in a loud stern voice and they would sort of crumble in front of him.

1986 Nobby Clarke then bridge committee chairman got the harbour bridge project underway. Photo/file
1986 Nobby Clarke then bridge committee chairman got the harbour bridge project underway. Photo/file

"He was a larger than life figure. He had a heart of gold. His favourite expression was 'my boy' - it was always 'yes, my boy or no, my boy'."

Mr Moultrie burst into laughter as he remembered the times Mr Clarke broke out of the rest home he was living in towards the end of his life.

Three former Mayors: L-R: Noel Pope Nobby Clarke, Michael Pittar. Photo/file
Three former Mayors: L-R: Noel Pope Nobby Clarke, Michael Pittar. Photo/file

"He just kept running away! One of his escapades he got as far as the Mount from Te Puke, he had hitchhiked. But that was Nobby. Nobby was in charge, he knew what to do and that was that."

Former Mayor Stuart Crosby credited Mr Clarke with giving him big breaks in his early days as a local politician.

"I jumped the ladder with Nobby's support."

There was a no smoking policy in the council chambers which created issues for Nobby so he used to go out to the mayoral car and puff away.

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Mr Crosby said Mr Clarke lived up to his 1989 election campaign slogan "bridging the gap".

"In that era, there was huge debate and quite a confrontation between Mt Maunganui and Tauranga. He had a lot to do with the harbour bridge and in the six years as mayor he bridged the gap."

Mr Crosby would always remember Mr Clarke for his "very bad suits" and smoking a pipe.

"There was a no smoking policy in the council chambers which created issues for Nobby so he used to go out to the mayoral car and puff away."

Mr Clarke and his late wife of 52 years, Jo, had four children, who were in Australia when the news broke.

His children Peter Clarke, Michael Clarke, Susan Brown and Wendy Brown and grandchild Briana Chadwick, they all agreed he was "an old-style gentleman."

He was a mad keen golfer, grew orchids and was always "firm but fair".

His family said he was so well respected he got a special dispensation to smoke in his mayoral office at council.

Although suffering from dementia in his later years, the family all got together for the first time in 10 years recently for the celebration of a granddaughter's wedding.

He had four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A memorial for Mr Clarke would be held on what would have been his 88th birthday - May 4 at Omanu Golf Club, 3pm.