When it comes to actively supporting his community, few can hold a candle to Johnson Davis.

Now he is terminally ill, but the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust, in partnership with Mayor John Carter, made sure his contributions were recognised at a surprise function for family and friends at his home on Saturday.

Fellow railway trust stalwart Frank Leadley, who organised the function, detailed Mr Davis' extraordinary record of service to his community, including as a current member of the Kawakawa Business and Community Association, the inaugural committee for the Kawakawa Community Centre, the upgrade of the Te Papawai community swimming pool and the Ruapekapeka Pā Memorial Trust.

He was a member of the Whangaroa / Bay of Islands Community Board that built the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa, and the Hundertwasser Memorial Park Trust.

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"Johnson's legacy to the Kawakawa community is one that has been built on a great spirit of determination and pride, and is one that will not be forgotten," Mr Leadley said. Fellow Kawakawa stalwart Noma Shepherd also expressed great admiration.

"Johnson is a stickler for process and for getting his facts right, and is not afraid to get into an argument if he thinks something is wrong," she said. "His knowledge and obvious passion for this area is much respected. But his main love has been the railway, and he has spent countless hours not only on the trust but in practical work involved in restoration. It has been an honour to know and work with him."

Others also commented on his work ethic and the many contributions he had made before Mr Carter presented the special community award on behalf of the Far North District Council, and reiterated the special place that Mr Davis would always hold in the life and history of the Kawakawa community.

Mr Davis expressed surprise but appreciation for the award, thanking the railway trust for its support, and also Mr Carter for taking the time from his electioneering campaign to travel to Kawakawa to make the presentation.