Rodger Graeme Beatson, described by his brother Ray as "A very good man in all respects, my little brother and my mate" was farewelled on Saturday.
Every seat in the main hall at Te Ahu was filled as friends, family and fellow firefighters gathered to honour a man who made an extraordinary lifelong contribution to his community, most notably but not only as a volunteer firefighter.
Firefighters formed a guard of honour as he was carried to the hearse, the Kaitaia Fire Brigade's siren sounding at 12.48pm as he began his final journey to the Kaitaia cemetery.
Born in Kaitaia in 1945, the youngest child and third son of Garth and Jessie Beatson, he had been a talented and competitive athlete as a youngster, and as a teenager had been one of the country's best shooters. A serious accident had ended his sporting potential, but he had never lost his passion for fishing.
He had lived and worked north of Mangamuka all his life, for many years as the managing director of the Kaitaia Timber Co, and finally as the caretaker at Kaitaia Abundant Life School.
His "little brother," Ray said, had had a true sense of commitment to his community. At the age of around 10 he had decided he wanted to be a fireman, mounting a box with three buckets and a beater on a set of pram wheels. He had been so keen that Ray eventually lit a fire for him, then stood back and watched as he put it out.
He had joined the Ahipara Fire Brigade at 15, serving more than 50 years, 38 of them as Chief Fire Officer.
He was a fire officer for DOC for more than 25 years, an honorary wildlife officer for 32, an honorary fisheries officer for eight, led a church youth group for 11, served as a voluntary ambulance officer, was an active member of the residents' and ratepayers' association, co-founded Far North Surf Rescue, and for years cut firewood for the elderly and needy.
In 2005 he received the Queen's Service Medal for services to the community and the Fire Service, in 2009 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace, he was a Kiwibank Local Hero and a finalist for Senior New Zealander of the ear, all despite suffering ill health for much of his life.
Abundant Life School principal Mark Tan, who, as a schoolboy at Ahipara, had regarded him as "the man, the chief, the boss of Ahipara," said Rodger had given him his first job, cleaning the toilets (and offices) at Kaitaia Timber. Years later Tan employed him, as the school caretaker, where for the first couple of days he was addressed as Mr Tan, thereafter as Boy.
He had only twice seen him angry, one of those occasions being when he "suggested" that he knock down two walls. He followed instructions, although not with especially good grace, Tan discovering later that Rodger had erected them himself a few months earlier.
The man known to the students as Papa Rodger (or The Man) had also delighted in taking them for rides on 'Little Flick,' the fire brigade Landrover that was gifted to him when he retired as a firefighter, "messing up" the school field in the process, then fixing it.
"He was a true gentleman. We are not going to meet many of those. A true rangatira," Tan said.
Former Kaitaia Chief Fire Officer Colin Kitchen thanked Rodger's wife, Iri (who had captured Rodger's heart when he was 15, she 12), for her unwavering support of her husband for six decades.
"You and your family are all unsung heroes," he said, adding that Rodger had been deserving of a knighthood. Now he was reunited with fellow Ahipara firefighter Terry Tepania (who died in 2014), and Heaven would be a safer place "fire-wise."
Son 'Little' Rodger could not be there, but daughters Kimberly, Toni and Stacey also paid tribute to their father, Toni saying he had been a gift and a blessing, while Stacey confessed to resorting to desperate measures to capture his attention.
"All I ever wanted from my dad was his time, and it was you (the community) who got his time," she said.
"I learned to get his attention by misbehaving. I mastered that. I got a lot of attention."
She also feigned a passion for fishing, although she had not liked it at all. It was smelly and dirty, she said, but it was the way to spend time with her father.
"I laughed loudest at his jokes, and congratulated him on of the brilliance of his one-liners," she added.
"He did everything with so much diligence, and he always made people feel special.
"He was a warrior, strong and brave to the very end. He will forever be my hero."