There is grief in the North with the death of rangatira Ricky Houghton and a question over how the work to which he gave his life will continue.
"Who picks that up?" asked Hone Harawira, former MP and Tai Tokerau leader. "Now what? It's hard to comprehend the loss."
Harawira was as beset by sadness as any and all spoken to by the Advocate at the loss of Houghton, chief executive of Kaitaia housing not-for-profit service, He Korowai Trust.
Houghton, 62, was directly known for his housing work but Harawira described the social advocate as belonging to the community in a way that reached beyond his literal iwi, Ngati Kahu.
"All love to our iwi and our leaders but it can be a bit constraining. They want you to fit their world.
"Rick's world was bigger than the world we live in. His tribe was te pani me te rawakore - the poor and dispossessed," he said. "He had a genuine love for te pani me te rawakore."
Harawira said Houghton's mahi sought to build a kaupapa Māori lifestyle that offered more than simply housing but embraced those in need with services and support.
"He was a great man. He was a genuine free thinker - and when I say 'free thinker', the man's mind was phenomenal. He could think steps beyond a policy before the policy was even written."
Houghton died at his home in Massey on Monday morning surrounded by whānau after a long battle with illness. Tributes from across Aotearoa have spoken to Houghton's legacy, his mana and dedication to making the world a better place for those in need.
He Korowai Trust chairman Waitai Petera said he'd been with Houghton at the marae in Auckland and would be making the journey north with the tūpāpaku (body) to Pāmāpuria's Te Paatu Marae today.
Petera said Houghton's death sent shockwaves across the community even though it was known he had been sick for some time.
"He Korowai Trust staff are in shock and have come to Auckland in a bus from Kaitaia to be with him at the marae at this time," Petera said.
"Ricky did heaps of things for people and never ever put himself before others and if you talk to anybody in the north, they'll say the same thing.
"This is a very sad time for us at He Korowai Trust- he built this service out of nothing and still had a lot to do and we are determined to see his legacy carry on."
Houghton returned home to his turangawaewae (home) in the Far North around 25 years ago and worked tirelessly as a housing and community advocate for the people of Kaitāia and surrounds.
In that time he turned the old Kaitaia Hotel into emergency housing, saved more than 550 Far North houses from mortgagee sales and helped keep more than 6400 people in their homes.
Houghton also campaigned to lift the number of Māori wardens instead of police, helped men with addiction and violence problems, rallied support for a Māori-owned bank, and established a Māori trade training scheme.
Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis (Ngāpuhi) said from overseas he was "devastated" by Houghton's death.
"He did a huge amount for the community and had a huge heart. My thoughts are with his whānau."
Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime echoed Davis' sentiment, saying Houghton's death was a "huge loss to our communities".
"Ricky was such a tenacious advocate for our communities. He was always innovating, always trying to think of ways to tackle our challenges, and was constantly challenging the status quo. I really admired him."
Prime said Houghton's cheeky smile and big laugh would be missed. "He was always on a mission; whenever he went to a hui or to Wellington he always did it with a purpose. The totara tree has fallen."
Former Minister for Regional Economic Development and NZ First party member Shane Jones said he had shared a close relationship with Houghton and was deeply saddened by his loss.
He said he was grateful one of his last projects as minister was to assist Houghton with funding to help continue his housing service.
"This is a very sad time. Ricky and I are the same age, he's gone far too early," Jones said.
"We share a mokopuna together and have spent a tremendous amount of time from the 1980s on a shared journey.
"He created an enormously valuable service saving people's houses, provided practical budgeting advice and enabled people to reset their bearings without judgment.
"Ricky's legacy will follow in the footsteps of other prominent Te Paatu hāpu community leaders such as Sir Graham Latimer, Dennis Hansen and Waireti Walters.
"Haere e te mata hiapo, e moe e te tumu o te whanau me te hapori."
In an interview from 2017 with social media platform, Humans of Kaitaia, Houghton spoke openly about his passion for helping people and how he hoped to be remembered.
He described how his own painful experiences of being judged, dismissed and mistreated had driven him to make it his life's work to serve others.
"I'd like to be remembered as someone who has advocated all his life for the downtrodden, the less fortunate, for people who have been treated as second-class citizens, for those who want some support to reach their full potential," Houghton said.
"That's who I am. I knew that's what I wanted to be at a very young age when I was institutionalised and placed in mental health wards... and was told I was a bad boy, and on a pathway to jail.
"All those years ago I promised myself, that if ever I got a chance to make a difference, then that is how I wanted to spend my life.
"I wanted to show the people that I was never going to be the person that they always said I was going to be."
Houghton was made 2018 Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero for his dedication to improving the quality of life for Far North whānau. That recognition was followed by the 2019 award for Outstanding Māori Business Leader Award, recognising his exceptional career success and outstanding leadership characteristics.
Upon arriving at Te Paatu Marae, Houghton will lay at the marae before his tangihanga on Friday.
Auckland's Te Piringatahi O Te Maungaarongo Marae, said it was with the deepest sadness to learn of the death of Houghton.
"We acknowledge and pay our condolences to his adored wife, Rosie and their tamariki, Shane, Shar and Crystal, and their many mokopuna who we know will miss him dearly," the marae said.
"The marae also wishes to acknowledge the mahi Ricky has done within the community for whānau, hapū and Iwi throughout Aotearoa, and also as an original Pou of Te Piringatahi o te Maungaarongo Marae."