Maori leader. Died aged 69.

Te Arawa has lost one of its most respected kaumatua, the Reverend Wihapi (Hapi) Winiata.

Koro Hapi, as he was affectionately known, died in Rotorua Hospital after a long battle with illness.

Mr Winiata, primarily of Ngati Whakaue but who was connected by whakapapa to several hapu, was regarded by many as the paramount chief of Te Arawa.

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Robert Biddle said his uncle had been an asset to all people.

"He was even the president of the Rotorua French Club. He gave his heart to everyone, to Nga Hau e Wha [the four winds]. The iwi is going to miss him, especially Ngati Whakaue.

"He was our pou tokomanawa [centre pillar]. For the family he was Te Ahi O Nga Uri Rangatira [our guiding light]."

The Rotorua District Council had acknowledged Mr Winiata's contributions to Maoridom and the wider community with an award for community service.

Former Rotorua mayor Grahame Hall said Mr Winiata's death would leave a great gap for the community.

"He was a man of huge stature in our community. He has made an enormous contribution to the community and could walk in both worlds quite comfortably.

"Hapi was incredibly dignified and had a huge amount of knowledge on Maoridom. I'm incredibly sad. He has been my friend for a long time and he has been really supportive of me and of the council and will be missed by a lot of people."

Although Mr Winiata was a stickler for Te Arawa kawa (protocol) he was always accommodating and supportive of anyone unaccustomed to it, Mr Hall said.

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Sir Howard Morrison and Mr Winiata grew up as "childhood pa boys" at Ohinemutu.

Although Sir Howard moved to Ruatahuna when he was 10, the pair reconnected when they attended Te Aute College.

"We share the same direct tupuna. Like his father who was steeped in whakapapa, he naturally took a very great interest in whakapapa. It was deemed he would go into the ministry," he said.

Mr Winiata was a lay member of Ohinemutu's St Faith's Church and entered the Anglican ministry in 1978, serving pastorates in Rotorua and Taupo areas for 30 years.

A keen rugby player for nearly 20 years and then a keen supporter, he also refereed games in the mid-1970s.

Another interest was a passion for watercolour painting and pencil and pastel work. He enjoyed landscape and figure work and drawing cartoons.

Mr Winiata worked for the Maori Land Court for 33 years until his retirement in 1989.

- NZPA