Key Points:

Dame Marie Clay, one of New Zealand's most distinguished researchers of educational literacy has died today, aged 81.

Dame Marie died in Auckland's Mercy Hospice, following a short illness.

She was credited with changing the face of primary school literacy here and worldwide with her Reading Recovery early intervention programme.

Education Minister Steve Maharey today paid tribute to the educator and psychologist and extended his condolences and sympathy to her family.

"Dame Marie Clay has made a huge contribution to New Zealand education, and was one of the most distinguished researchers in educational literacy in the world," Steve Maharey said.

"Her work in developing the Reading Recovery Programme in the 1980s won Dame Marie international recognition, and has helped many children in a wide range of countries," Mr Maharey said.

The programme, which was a result of her doctoral studies, is now also being used in Australia, Great Britain, Canada and the United States.

Dame Marie was born in Wellington in 1926.

She graduated from Auckland University in 1966 with a PhD in Education.

In 1975 she was appointed as the first woman professor at the University of Auckland, and has been inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame.

Her work has been acknowledged by five overseas universities who awarded her with honorary degrees.