Hundreds are expected to gather at a memorial for "genuinely tremendous clubbie" Graeme Cullen - a surf lifesaving legend - on June 14. Graeme lost his long battle against melanoma this month. His wife Carol sits down with reporter Leah Tebbutt exclusively to share the man he was outside of his lifesaving world.

"I've lost half of my heart, I've lost half of me."

Over Easter weekend this year, Graeme Cullen's health suddenly declined after a long battle with melanoma.

He was diagnosed with cancer 15 years ago after finding a freckle on his lower leg.

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He was told by doctors it had been removed but 11 years later it popped up again like a cyst.

"Two years later it was in his liver," wife Carol said.

"It was mean. Melanoma is mean. They had some trials going and he put his hand up to be the lab rat but in the end, the drug that he was on was costing us $10,000 a month."

His family created a 24-hour roster to care for Graeme but on May 2 he died at the Waipuna Hospice, aged 61.

Graeme 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 a board member.

Graeme with wife Carol after receiving his knighthood for international lifesaving in Adelaide last year. Photo / Supplied
Graeme with wife Carol after receiving his knighthood for international lifesaving in Adelaide last year. Photo / Supplied

His list of awards and accolades is extensive but his proudest achievement was his Knight in the Order of Lifesaving which was personally presented by International Lifesaving Federation president Graham Ford last year.

But lifesaving wasn't the only thing in his life.

Head boy at Otumoetai College and in everything from the choir to the First XV, he was a character that everybody knew, including classmate Carol.

A few years later, while she was living in Auckland, the pair met again and soon began dating.

"I moved back [for him], we got engaged.

"Whatever Graeme wanted to do I followed. We were a couple through and through."

It was when their two boys, Thomas and James, went away to university she suggested they learn to dance.

"Away we went and we were dancing until a month before he died."

For about 13 years the pair tapped their feet to ballroom and rock 'n' roll every week.

"At the start, we were hooked and we were going about five times a week."

Graeme said the one thing he would miss was his family. Photo / Supplied
Graeme said the one thing he would miss was his family. Photo / Supplied

Up until six weeks ago, Graeme was walking around as if nothing was wrong, being the same kind-hearted man many remember him as.

Oncologists told Carol it was unclear how the cancer developed and said it could be the result of sunburn as a baby.

"He was particularly careful, he was different to all the other lifeguards at the time, he never got sunburnt. He always wore a rugby jersey in the sun and he got teased for it."

But through his service to community, Graeme made many friends and was a mentor to many, while his children were privileged to have his wisdom at the click of a button.

Carol says she misses everything about the man who has been by her side for more than 30 years. Photo / Supplied
Carol says she misses everything about the man who has been by her side for more than 30 years. Photo / Supplied

"He was their friend but he also guided them through life."

Graeme said the one thing he would regret was dying without having any grandchildren.

Then two-and-a-half years ago Jack came along.

"Jack was the apple of Graeme's eye. He absolutely adored him.

"The one thing he said he would miss was his family, that's who he was."

The memorial service will be held at the Mount Lifeguard Club, June 14 at 1pm.