A tangi is being held at Moteo, west of Napier, for Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Annie Aranui, who died suddenly on Friday.
A career public servant, who grew up in Hawke's Bay and attended Taradale High School, the mother of three was last year awarded the New Zealand Public Service Medal, part of the Royal New Zealand Honours structure, although separate from the New Year and Queen's Birthday honours.
Among those at the tangi has been MSD Deputy Chief Executive service delivery Viv Rickard who told Hawke's Bay Today: "Without doubt the common theme is the huge loss of a rangatira at the height of her leadership. No reira e te whaea , moe mai koe."
Aranui, 54, had served the public for more than 36 years, leading to her recognition with the award.
"She had a deep knowledge of her region and the needs of its people," Rickard said. "She loved her work and most of all, her family.
"Annie was able to draw on her tikanga to bring individuals and agencies together to focus on improving the lives of whānau, community, hapū and iwi. Her leadership, integrity, trusted advice and selfless dedication to Tairāwhiti and the Hawke's Bay community enabled her to touch the lives of many," he said.
He said her perspective and voice were constantly sought, and her word was trusted by business, iwi, council leaders and colleagues.
"We will miss her guidance, her friendship, her quiet dignity and her presence. Annie may have had a quiet voice, but she could command a room."
Among others who had arrived at Moteo, where the tangi ends on Tuesday have been MPs and departmental heads, and mayors and councillors.
Ikaroa Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri said in a Facebook post she was "absolutely devastated and heartbroken with the sudden and sad news of Annie Aranui's passing".
She described her as "the consummate Senior Māori Public Servant delivering gains for our people in the social development and employment area", and said that as MSD's Regional Commissioner she had a can-do attitude. "Always advocating for Māori interest and never shying away from doing more."
The tangi ends with the final service on Tuesday starting at 11am. Burial will be at Paparakaitangi urupā.