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Sir Roy McKenzie, one of New Zealand's most prolific philanthropists, has died in Wellington, aged 84.

Sir Roy's achievements included being a Royal Air Force bomb aimer, Olympian, company director, accountant and valuable patron to numerous charities.

He died at his home on Saturday.

Born in Wellington, Sir Roy attended Timaru Boys High School and Otago University before serving in the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the British Royal Air Force Bomber Command division in World War 2.

He was the son of Sir John McKenzie, founder of McKenzie's chain stores and the J R McKenzie Trust, which was established in 1947 and still operates today.

On his return from war he became a chartered accountant, and joined the trust board.

In 1952 he was captain of the New Zealand ski team at the winter Olympics in Oslo, but a broken bone forced him out of competition.

Sir Roy founded a number of organisations, including the Roy McKenzie Foundation and the Centre for the Study of Families at Victoria University.

He was patron of the Outward Bound Trust and councillor at the Council for Educational Research.

He also gave significant support to many other charities, including Women's Refuge, the Deaf Decade Trust, Birthright, the hospice movement, and the Nga Manu Native Reserve Trust.

In 1990 Sir Roy initiated Philanthropy New Zealand, a regular meeting for a wide range of charitable groups to share knowledge about the philanthropy process.

He preferred to be known as a "community volunteer", rather than a philanthropist, even though he was passionate about philanthropy and convinced about its value to the community.

He was instrumental in setting up New Zealand's first hospice, Te Omanga in Lower Hutt, where he was later admitted as a patient.

In his spare moments Sir Roy also found time for tennis, tramping and harness racing, and was an active Rotarian.

He was knighted in 1989 for his services to education and the community, was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and holds an honorary doctorate in Commerce from Victoria University.

Sir Roy is survived by his wife Shirley, three children and nine grandchildren.

Philanthropy New Zealand executive director Robyn Scott described Sir Roy as a "wonderful philanthropist" who left "a wonderful legacy for the future".

"It was a life very well lived," she told Radio New Zealand.

Ms Scott said Sir Roy had a diverse range of interests but the greatest attributes that guided all his philanthropy was his "real love" of fellow mankind and his "real feeling for people who suffered from disadvantage".

"There was a huge range of things he cared about deeply."

A personal code of living simply and dealing honourably guided Sir Roy's life, Ms Scott said.

"He believed passionately in the power of people `giving back' and he viewed himself as just part of being able to make that happen.

"He never expected people to honour him for his philanthropy. He really valued those people who gave their time and made things happen."

A symposium was held in Sir Roy's honour in May, exposing the breadth and depth of his philanthropy over many years.

Speakers talked of Sir Roy's interest, and the fact that "he cared", as much as they talked about the money he invested in their organisations.

"He was an extremely caring individual while, at the same time, was a very successful business person and sportsman."

Additional interests included photography, tennis, tramping, harness racing and breeding.

In 1998 Sir Roy published his memoirs, entitled Footprints - Harnessing an Inheritance into a Legacy.

In 2004 a film was made about his life - Giving It All Away.

His work will continue through the J R McKenzie Trust, which Sir Roy's son John currently chairs, Ms Scott said.

Canterbury harness racing identity Fred Fletcher said today he would remember Sir Roy as "a kind and generous man" who put the welfare of those in less fortunate circumstances first.

He also recalled Sir Roy's genuine love of harness horses that meant much more to him than simply a means of making money.

In his earlier years, Sir Roy enjoyed driving his own horses.

"He was a competitive driver and always got a great thrill out of any wins."

For 30 years Mr Fletcher ran Sir Roy's vast Roydon Lodge operation near Christchurch, training and driving for him with great success.

"I can recall that when I won the Auckland Cup for him with Roydon Glen that he donated the stake money to the Wellington Trotting Club to glass in the front of the public grandstand."

Mr Fletcher said Roydon Glen, Roydon Scott and Sundon were three of the finest race horses he was involved with for Sir Roy, who also had great success with Jay Ar, Bonnie Frost, La Mignon, Roydon Roux, Arania, Samantha and Garcon Roux.

His most successful stud stallions included Sundon, Game Pride, Smooth Fella, Scottish Command, Thurber Frost, Captain Adios and Armbro Hurricane.

Sir Roy liked travelling to see his race horses compete and "you couldn't get a better man to work for", Mr Fletcher said.

He described Sir Roy's passing as "the end of an era".