Northland long jumping legend, and current New Zealand record holder, Bob Thomas has made his final leap to the skies.

Except this time around he won't be touching down on terra firma.

The athletics legend - whose national long jump record of 8.05m reached 48 years unsurpassed last week - cleared the homestretch in the early hours of yesterday morning, passing away peacefully at Waipu's Ranburn Rest Home Hospital and Village, aged 76.

"People loved him because he was so kind," Thomas' cousin Maureen Armstrong said.

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"The staff at that place [Ranburn] were absolutely wonderful... He was a gentleman and was well-liked because he was so kind, quiet and unassuming."

The only New Zealander to ever clear the eight metre mark, the closest recorded attempt at beating Thomas' record was Aaron Langdon's wind assisted jump of 7.99m, set on February 21, 1998.

"It's a mystery," Dave Norris, a former rival of Thomas' said as to how nobody has managed to topple the long-standing feat.

"They're not fast enough... generally speaking [and] I've been coaching and up with the play in New Zealand standards," Norris added as to one possibility to why the record has transcended almost five decades.

"Having said that, Bob wasn't fast."

In Peter Heidenstrom's Athletes of the Century, Thomas is noted as "probably the slowest man to long jump over eight metres, he depended almost entirely on the tremendous lift he got off the long jump board".

Thomas preferred to be out of the limelight and led a secluded lifestyle for many years.

Athletics Auckland president Murray McKinnon recalls inviting Thomas to an athletics meet at Mt Smart Stadium when there was the possibility that his National record was going to be given a close nudge. But Thomas politely turned the offer down.

Rubbing shoulders with a legend of another sporting code last year, Thomas received a visit from none other than rugby league legend Steve Price.

Rugby league legend Steve Price met long jump legend Bob Thomas in Waipu last year. Photo / Instagram
Rugby league legend Steve Price met long jump legend Bob Thomas in Waipu last year. Photo / Instagram

In awe of the encounter, Price made a post on social media platform Instagram which read: "What privilege 2 have morning tea with Bob Thomas who broke the NZ Long Jump record in 1968 and is still the current holder. Such an interesting guy. Loved every story. Such a shame he didn't get to go to either Commonwealth Games in Perth or Mexico Olympics. What a Legend [sic]".

In uncanny circumstances, Thomas was challenged for a photo finish by former New Zealand long jump champion Lawrie Croxson recently.

Croxson, a close rival of Thomas and Norris for many years passed away in Turangi just under two weeks ago, on January 15, aged 77.

Thomas' funeral will take place 1pm this Friday at Bay of Islands College, Kawakawa.