Mayor John Carter recalled running into Colin Dale - "the nicest guy I've met in my life" - on his campaign in 2013.
"He said to me, 'If you get in, and you need a hand, give me a yell.' I got in and I yelled like hell," he said last week, as Mr Dale's record-breaking local government career came to an end.
By Friday afternoon, when Mr Dale, acting chief executive for the Far North District Council since 2014,left he had clocked up a record 61 years in local government.
His farewell on Thursday was attended by council staff, iwi, colleagues from his days at the Auckland and Manukau city councils, friends and family - his wife Billie, from Pawarenga, and their sons Hemi and Mason.
The son of a Liverpool coal miner who studied at night school to better himself and his prospects, 78-year-old Mr Dale began his career as a trainee health inspector in the UK.
He arrived in New Zealand in 1962 and worked as a district health inspector in Auckland and Manukau cities, rising to chief executive at Manukau City Council (1985-2006).
He was a commissioner at the Kaipara District Council (2012-14), then joined FNDC in 2014.
Warwick McNaughton, democracy manager at the Auckland Council, produced a speech delivered by Manukau Mayor Barry Curtis when Mr Dale retired for the first time, describing him as the best local government manager in New Zealand. At that time Mr Dale's 50-year career was already a record.
Hokianga kaumatua (and former deputy Mayor) John Klaricich noted that Mr Dale was the Far North's first chief executive to receive a formal farewell (his predecessors leaving under a cloud or with a cheque), while deputy Mayor Tania McInnes praised the old-school values, forward thinking, courage, perseverance and strength of "one of nature's gentlemen".
Former Mangere police officer and elected council member Alf Filipainia said Thursday's farewell was a sad occasion, but a day for the Dales' sons to celebrate getting their parents, particularly their father, back.
He tendered the apology of Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, and thanked the Far North for "looking after them".
Northland Regional Council chief executive Malcolm Nicolson said he had provided huge leadership, with a knack for calming hot heads.
"He has a way of sprinkling stardust on politicians, and getting everyone to pull in the same direction," he said.
Mr Carter, noting that he was the only non-mayor to have been granted life membership of Local Government NZ, said he had no doubt that the council had been on the verge of being replaced with a government-appointed commissioner when Mr Dale stepped in.
Mr and Mrs Dale will continue to live at Mangonui, and while they have no firm retirement plans they hope to spend more time with their two sons, four grandsons and two great-granddaughters. Travel may also be on the cards.
His successor as chief executive, former Air Force wing commander Shaun Clarke, took up the post yesterday.