The son of Sir Graeme Douglas has described the death of his father as the loss of a legend but says his legacy will live on in Douglas Pharmaceuticals.

Sir Graeme, the founder of Douglas Pharmaceuticals, died overnight Thursday at the age of 87.

Sir Graeme launched Douglas Pharmaceuticals in 1967 and grew the business to an international exporter which today employs 450 staff.

Staff were told of his passing away this morning in an email from son Jeff Douglas who took over as managing director of the company in 2014.


"It is with deep regret that I advise you all that my father passed away peacefully last night, " he wrote.

"He was surrounded by family and in the comfort of his own home. For 87 years he lived a very healthy life, apart from a few replacement joints, and that is something we are all grateful for."

Sir Graeme Douglas with his son Jeff in one of the labs at Douglas Pharmaceuticals in Henderson, Auckland. File photo / Greg Bowker
Sir Graeme Douglas with his son Jeff in one of the labs at Douglas Pharmaceuticals in Henderson, Auckland. File photo / Greg Bowker

Jeff said his dad's greatest passion was the company and even in his illness he maintained a strong interested in the company's activities.

He worked four days a week up until recently.

"On September 1st we lost a legend but together we can continue his legacy."

Jeff said his father's proudest moments would probably have been developing a new morphine drug for palliative care patients and the respect the company had gained from doing business all around the world.

"I've had calls from Spain, Singapore and Austria today," he said, also noting more than 500 emails he had received from people offering condolences.

As well as his business interests Sir Graeme was known for his generosity to charity.

In 2010 the family behind Douglas Pharmaceuticals gave the Starship $3 million, the largest personal donation ever for the children's hospital, to help pay for a new medical scanner.

Sir Graeme, a regular donor to the Starship, said he and his wife quickly decided to make the donation after he was taken on a tour of the hospital and learned the Starship Foundation charity was trying to raise money for the scanner.

"It gives us great pleasure to ensure Starship hospital has its own MRI facility to avoid the delays and discomfort currently experienced by young patients," he said at the time.

In the same year Douglas was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the honours.

He received the award for his services to philanthropy and athletics.

Douglas started the business making a few products from his community pharmacy in Te Atatu South and it grew from there.

The company set up its first manufacturing site in the 1980s and began making generic medication.

By the 1990s it expanded its focus to the export market and now makes 70 per cent of its turnover through exports.

Its domestic operation is worth more than $57 million annually and it supplies close to 30 products to more than 35 countries around the world.

Sir Graeme's funeral will be held on Wednesday.