A genuinely tremendous clubbie is how the surf life saving community is describing Graeme Cullen.

But today his fellow clubbies are walking with heavy hearts.

Graeme died at the Waipuna Hospice early Thursday morning, aged 61.

Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service shared the news he died with his wife Carol and his boys, James and Tom by his side, after a long battle against melanoma cancer on its Facebook page.


Heavy hearts indeed tonight for the very sad passing of a statesman, a gentleman, a husband, a dad, a granddad and a...

Posted by Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service on Thursday, 2 May 2019

"He was just 61 but those 61 years were filled with service, humility and leadership.

"Simply put, Graeme made our movement better for all of us and for that, and so much more, we'll always be grateful.

"He patrolled, competed, instructed, officiated, managed and governed in an illustrious life saving career, while also working as a school teacher, polytechnic tutor and chartered accountant."

Cully, as he was known, joined the Mount Lifeguard Service in 2004, the same year he was elected chairman of Surf Life Saving New Zealand after five years on the board.

He was made a life member of Surf Life Saving New Zealand in 2002, spent time as a delegate on the New Zealand Water Safety Council and later, was New Zealand's delegate to the International Life Saving Federation, where he also served as board member.

Graeme Cullen was officially recognised for his hard work and dedication by being made a life member in 2012. Photo / File
Graeme Cullen was officially recognised for his hard work and dedication by being made a life member in 2012. Photo / File

"But to the core, he was a lifeguard; someone who fought fiercely to prevent loss of life on our beaches.

"Friends and clubmates remember his passion for surf, the easy and constant smile, his patience and dedication.

"It's of comfort that those attributes will stay with us, once the sadness of his demise eases."

Waihi Beach Surf Life Saving Club shared the news on its Facebook page detailing his service to the club.

After joining as a 12-year-old in 1970 he qualified as a lifeguard two years later.

"Graeme was a respected member of the board and worked tirelessly to build the club to the asset it is to the local community."

It is with great sadness that we learnt of the passing of Graeme Cullen who was a valued member of Waihi Beach Lifeguard...

Posted by Waihi Beach Surf Lifesaving Club on Thursday, 2 May 2019

One friend, Jonette Mead, remember Cullen for his great advice.

"He stepped up and mentored, encouraged and suggested business and career opportunities that his clients and friends could not see. But he did.

"His love of the ocean was significant. His love of people and his belief in their inherent goodness shone out of him."

Cullen's roles in the surf life saving community varied but his work as a teacher and love for surf life saving combined when he became the chairman of the Surf Life Saving Education Committee and delegate to Water Safety New Zealand.

In documents released to the Bay of Plenty Times Cullen had written where his intent and passion for the surf life saving came from.

"I believe that any loss of life due to drowning is a great loss and remain passionate in the view that it is possible to further reduce the drowning toll.

"I continue to do my patrols and to influence the shape of the movement as a whole in a personal effort to make a difference."

Cullen is survived by wife Carol and sons James and Tom, their partners Abby and Chloe and grandson Jack.

Details of his memorial service are yet to be announced.