Some people touch you so deeply you feel like a lifelong friend though you've met them only two or three times. Gerry Hill, who died last Saturday, was one of those.
I imagine everyone who met Gerry liked him very much.
He had an interesting background. His father was Toby Hill, a well-known trade union leader who played a major role in the 1951 waterfront lockout as national secretary of the Waterside Workers' Union.
His mother was active in Wellington women's organisations and Gerry remembered growing up in a house that was full of lively conversation, a gathering place for politically engaged people including prominent unionists and MPs of the day.
Merchant seamen were also frequent visitors, often just back from international voyages with what Gerry called, "good stories and things you couldn't get in New Zealand".
As soon as he could he went to sea himself, working in the galleys, preparing and serving food for passengers and crew. His father was secretary of the Cooks and Stewards Union in the 1970s.
Gerry was elected to its national executive in 1984 and a few years later, when he became its Auckland secretary, he and partner Sally James moved north.
I first met him 10 years ago when I was researching Auckland's history for a series of Herald supplements. By then the Cooks and Stewards Union had long since disappeared into an amalgamated body and he and Sally had established a bed and breakfast business they called The Great Ponsonby Arthotel.
It was a warm, cosy house with Pacific-inspired furnishings and a parlour of books on Auckland and New Zealand's heritage and places of interest. Gerry offered walking tours of Ponsonby, pointing out where Michael Joseph Savage had lived and locations of events important to the labour movement.
Sharing a love of local history, we hit it off. He knew me from my columns and I knew him from his letters in the Herald. We did not agree on very much but that didn't matter.
When he published a memoir of the Cooks and Stewards Union the year before last, he sent me a copy. Typically, it's all about the union, not him. Its stories are of an era when only New Zealand companies could operate on New Zealand's coasts and it was normal for unions to decide who they could engage.
Young Gerry and his comrades fought for a roster to replace the system that let chief stewards choose who they wanted from a "corner" of union members waiting for work.
They were less successful with campaigns to save the overnight ferries from Lyttelton, which ended in 1976, and Norman Kirk's shipping line, sold by the next Labour Government.
When Railways started operating the Picton ferries the small Cooks and Stewards Union became an ogre in the public mind, leaving hundreds of holidaymakers stranded on an Anzac Day weekend in 1975. Toby Hill blamed railway managers who didn't know how to run ships.
The last dispute on Toby's watch ended with Railways agreeing to fly Lyttelton-based cooks and stewards to Wellington for work on the Picton ferries. Soon, Gerry concedes, some members were being flown to work from "remote and romantic parts of our green and pleasant land".
He proudly recalled "Operation Hope", a famine relief shipment to Ethiopia in 1985 that was his initiative. Inspired by Bob Geldof's "Live Aid" project, maritime unions donated their labour, the Union Steam Ship Company donated a ship.
Banks and other corporates contributed money and the Lange Government matched them dollar for dollar. The Wheat Board donated grain, the Ministry of Works a bulldozer and schoolchildren brought offerings to the ship before it sailed for Africa.
When Gerry wrote the book he had already been diagnosed with motor neurone disease. He and Sally were no longer operating "The Great Pons" and had moved into the house next door.
Gerry was in a motorised chair when I visited. His movements were restricted and life was a daily ordeal that he described with not a word of self-pity. He was still much more interested in problems outside himself and in the welfare of others.
As soon as I mentioned I was no longer working full time and fancied doing some heritage guiding he picked up his phone and called a contact. I imagine he had many.
His mind was as lively as ever and his spirit cheerful. That morning he had driven the chariot up the street and bought Anzac biscuits from little girls selling their home baking.
When I left, he came with me as far as the drive and lingered there, enjoying the sun on his face.