Residents of the eastern Bay of Plenty town of Murupara are mourning the death of New Zealand's first Maori mayor.

Percy Marunui Murphy, who was also Ngati Manawa's last remaining 28th Maori Battalion warrior, died in Rotorua on Sunday night.

Mr Murphy enlisted in the famed Maori Battalion as a 16-year-old old.

He saw action in Italy, where he was seriously wounded and had to have his right leg amputated.


He was one of four Murphy brothers to fight for their country in World War 2 in which two - Michael and Edward - were killed in action while a third - Jim - was captured and made a prisoner of war.

Following the war, Percy Murphy became a successful businessman and then a community leader, serving the new Murupara Borough Council with distinction as New Zealand's first Maori mayor for three consecutive terms from 1960 to 1969.

"He was instrumental in helping develop Ngati Manawa lands from a huge liability to a successful enterprise today," Te Kura Kaupapa Motuhake o Tawhiuau principal Pem Bird said.

Mr Murphy also served many years as secretary of Rangitahi Marae. He retired to Rotorua in 1975 but maintained an active interest in Ngati Manawa affairs, particularly his marae Rangitahi.

Mr Murphy will lie in state at Rangitahi until tomorrow, when he will be buried at the cemetery of Ngati Hui, his hapu.

Mr Murphy is survived by his wife Martha, six children, five children grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren.