On Sunday afternoons, a car would pull up outside Mohammad Bassam's Mangere Bridge cafe and David Lange would be helped to his favourite kerbside table by his wife, Margaret Pope.

He ordered the same thing each time - a large latte, which he liked to drink from a yellow cup - and then he would light up a thick cigar.

Mr Bassam, who has owned his kebab business for four years, initially didn't know who his regular was but noticed people would stop and say hello.

"Everyone seemed to like him, then a woman in the cafe one day told me who he was," Mr Bassam said.

"He always asked me how the business was going and he would smoke his cigar.

"It's very sad. His wife took very good care of him. She would park the car right outside."

Mr Lange often shopped at the village near the Manukau Harbour.

Yesterday copies of the Herald on Sunday lay on cafe tables, the front page taken up by a picture of the former PM who pulled the rug from under Sir Roger Douglas' economic reforms by famously saying the nation should stop for a cuppa while it picked up the casualties.

"He will be missed around here," said local supermarket supervisor Neeta Tikavam. "He was always smiling, always good-natured."

Neighbour Mike Clews, who lives opposite the Lange home in Ambury Rd, said he took a bunch of flowers to the house after hearing the news.

"He was some guy; it's all a bit sad," Mr Clews said. "I hadn't seen him for a while but he was such a character, he always waved hello."

Andrew Giarn, owner of the Mangere Bridge Super Value store, remembered a down-to-Earth man who was always willing to have a chat and to help the poor.

"A lot of times he would come into the store and people would be short of money and he would say, 'Don't worry about it, I'll pay for it'."

Mr Giarn had known Mr Lange for about 25 years. Before he became really unwell Mr Lange would regularly show up at 6 or 7am to get a copy of the Herald. Chocolate and lollies were also favourites.

"He was a good man for the whole country as well as for the whole community. Everybody liked him.

"He never worried that he was the Prime Minister, he used to come down and stand in the queue.

"I used to tell my Indian friends that was the Prime Minister and they would say 'What? In Indian countries Prime Ministers wouldn't stand in the queue'."

Mr Lange invited Mr Giarn and his family to his home on election day and the Indian shop owner always supplied the sausages and drinks for the pre-election parties. Mr Lange had twice opened extensions to the Coronation Rd store.

Mr Lange's son Roy had worked for Mr Giarn and when he married in India in the late 1990s, two of Mr Giarn's sons attended the wedding.

The last time Mr Lange came to the dairy was about nine weeks ago. He was still driving the car but said it was probably the last time he would.

Mr Giarn had warned him not to drive like a maniac "like he was at the Pukekohe racetrack".

"He said, 'I can't in Mangere Bridge'. "It's very sad. We will miss him."