Not much happened in Kawakawa that Johnson Davis didn't have a hand in — the community centre, the pool, the Hundertwasser park, the community board, the business association, and much more. But in particular he will be remembered for his unstinting work for the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust, which he finally retired from only shortly before his death on October 11, aged 75.

Fellow vintage railway stalwart Frank Leadley paid the warmest of tributes to his friend when he was farewelled at a service at his home, saying a mighty kauri had fallen, and the space it had left would be very hard to fill.

"Johnson Davis was a Kawakawa man through and through," Mr Leadley said, "but his main passion has been with the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust, and it is on behalf of the railway that I wish to speak.

"Way back in 2001 Johnson and I were involved in mounting a coup to bring the railway under one administration umbrella instead of the two groups that were at odds with each other and were hindering its restoration. And Johnson has been fighting for that restoration ever since. In June 2012 he followed Alison Lemon as trust chairman, and had been very successful in that position until a couple of months ago, when failing health resulted in him handing over the chair's responsibilities to Sue Hamnett.

Advertisement

"Johnson was honest, he was sincere, he was very determined, and he was a stickler for process. He did not suffer fools lightly, and he made sure he researched thoroughly and got his facts right before he entered into any argument or prepared for a meeting. He could be very annoying at times!

"But he was also a very hands-on trustee and trust chairman, and hardly a day went by that he wasn't at the station, helping with the painting, cleaning, banking, taking photos, talking with visitors and making them welcome, and generally demonstrating his passion through what he did, and by the person he was. He was a do as I do person, not do as I say.

"Even when the dreaded cancer took hold Johnson did not give in, determined to give as much as he possibly could to the cause. I never heard him complain that the task was getting too much for him.

"He was never a behind-the-scenes trustee or chairman. He lived his passion, right out in the open for all to see. As the writer and editor of the railway's excellent newsletters Johnson was able to give life to his dedication and to that of the other volunteers, and to the colossal amount of work that has been achieved.

"He gave unstintingly of his time, without any thought of personal reward or recognition.

In ways too many to count Johnson demonstrated his passion, his energy, his enthusiasm, and his total commitment to getting the railway fully up and running. His catch cry was, 'Let's get the train back to Ōpua.' Sadly, we have not been able to get back to Ōpua yet. But I can promise you that we will. And when we do, Johnson will look down and say, 'About bloody time.'

"No reira, poroporoaki ki takau hoa. Haere i runga i te rangimarie."