Kind, compassionate, fun, sports-mad - these were just some of the epithets used to describe Ongaonga principal Mike Lewis, who was farewelled at a service in Waipawa yesterday.

Mr Lewis died suddenly on Tuesday last week, aged 53, and at least 700 people packed in to the CHB Municipal Theatre to remember him and his contribution to the Central Hawke's Bay community.

Teaching at Ongaonga School since 1999, Mr Lewis made an indelible mark on students, staff and families over that time.

School representatives, former and current students spoke of his passion for teaching, and how he encouraged and supported pupils to reach their potential.


Tributes from current students included their acknowledgments of his always having time for them, his sense of fun, and how he was more to them than just a principal.

The traditions he introduced such as chocolate assemblies after the annual Ongaonga 7's tournament, lollipops and later tennis balls given out on children's birthdays, the famous Year 8 water fights and his role as DJ Lewis at the school discos helped cement his popularity.

Members of the school staff and board of trustees noted his ability to find ways to teach valuable lessons beyond the classroom and the support he gave to staff to further their careers.

Family and friends spoke about the happy memories they had of a big-hearted loving father, husband, son, brother, uncle and great-uncle, who made an impact on all who knew him.

This included the many people he coached, particularly in cricket and soccer, a task into which he put enormous amounts of time.

Speakers credited the energy Mr Lewis put into the CHB Cricket Club as being instrumental in its ongoing survival.

He was said to be a top bloke who could bring people together and make things happen.

As a co-host of the weekly Central FM Centreline's Sports Show since 2009, he reached even more people with his banter, humour and depth of sporting knowledge.

Mike Lewis is survived by his wife Racquel MacDonald and son Hamish.