The flag above the Hamilton City Council building will fly at half-mast today in recognition of the passing of former councillor and well-known café owner Giuseppe "Joe" Di Maio.

Mr Di Maio passed away on February 14 after an illness. He was 85. Mr Di Maio was a father of five – Carina, Giovanni, Angelina, Mario and Antonia – and had 10 grandchildren.

Deputy Mayor Martin Gallagher paid tribute to Mr Di Maio, who served two terms as a Hamilton City Councillor, between 2004 and 2010.

"Joe was a larger than life character, an extroverted and boisterous expatriate Italian businessman who made Hamilton his home for more than 40 years," Mr Gallagher says.

Advertisement

"Joe's spot in Garden Place – Gelato Arlecchino – was an iconic Hamilton eatery. It was Joe's dream to open a place like that, and he took great pride in serving up authentic Italian pizza and gelato, and espresso from a tremendous golden machine which caught the attention as much as Joe's trademark lively conversation.

"He was an absolute legend of the central city who many people will remember fondly."

Mr Gallagher says Mr Di Maio was always very community minded, and took a keen interest in matters around the city – particularly the central business district.

The café, which held a prime spot in what is now the frontage of the Central Library, operated from 1981 through until 2003, serving up to 54 flavours of ice cream and numerous varieties of pizza.

Mr Di Maio stood for the council in 2004 and was successful in gaining a seat, gaining re-election in 2007.

In 2007 he initiated an Italian migrant exhibition at the Waikato Museum after being part of the planning process for a larger exhibition at Te Papa in Wellington called "Qui tutto bene".

Councillor Dave Macpherson says Mr Di Maio was noted for friendliness to colleagues around the council table and also people in the wider community.

"His ideas were always interesting and were driven by his enthusiasm for the city and its people," Cr Macpherson says.

Former Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman says Mr Di Maio was influential in securing Hamilton's now-famous giant Christmas tree, placed in Garden Place – just metres from the old Gelato Arlecchino site – every festive season.

"Joe was very determined with that idea," Mr Chesterman says. "He worked alongside myself and former Councillor Roger Hennebry to gain funding from the business community, and the tree itself was eventually handed over to the trust which now manages it for the city."

Escaping the poverty of Italy following World War II, Mr Di Maio was 19 when he arrived in Wellington in 1951.

The son of a stonemason, he knew little English and moved to Nelson where he grew tomatoes.

He took a role as a cabinet maker in Murupara in 1953, before switching careers again and opening a hair salon for men and women.

After a couple of years back in Europe (England and Italy), Mr Di Maio moved to Tamahere in 1973 and stayed in the Hamilton area for decades afterwards, leaving behind a well-regarded legacy in the city.

A service celebrating Mr Di Maio's life was held at St Peter's Church in Cambridge at 11am today.

Deputy Mayor Gallagher and Mayor Andrew King will attend on behalf of the council.