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Te Papa's chief executive Seddon Bennington was found dead today after being missing in the Tararua Ranges for the last four days. He was 61.

Dr Bennington's long-time family friend, Marcella Jackson, 54, known as Rosie, was found with him.

The pair were reported missing after they failed to return from a weekend tramp in the ranges in the lower North Island.

Dr Bennington, who took up the position of chief executive of the national museum in 2003, had previously spoken to The Dominion Post about his fondness for the outdoors.

"My first tramps were in the Arthur's Pass area, a perfect weekend beginning late at night on a Friday, jumping off the train as it slowed around Klondike Corner," he said in 2007.

"Now, with the Tararuas visible from the office window, I frequently think of the satisfaction of being away from city lights and comforts, of traversing ridges, of the sleep that comes of a day's hard exertion, and of the respect for nature and weather that goes with the terrain."

He had a lower public profile than the foundation chief executive of Te Papa, Dame Cheryll Sotheran, but that was said to be the way he wanted it.

"He started putting more art back in the national museum, which met a lot of the criticism that had been previously been made about the failure to show art," an insider told NZPA today.

"He did his best to open it up and brought in blockbuster shows, such as the recent Monet and the Impressionists exhibition." Before taking up his position at Te Papa, Dr Bennington was the director of the Carnegie Science Centre in the United States.

The centre's website said Dr Bennington was a "major force" behind the UPMC SportsWorks and the centre's $90 million expansion project.

Dr Bennington was a board member on the Wellington Civic Trust and had remained as a board member of the Carnegie Science Centre.

He has also worked as the chief executive of the Scitech Discovery Centre in Perth, Australia and he headed the Division of Professional Services at the Western Australian Museum.

Dr Bennington was the director of Otago's Early Settlers Museum in Dunedin and was the director for Wellington's City Gallery.

While he was working in Australia, he wrote a book called Handbook for Small Museums.

He had a PhD in Zoology from the University of Canterbury and worked for a year with the Volunteer Service Abroad in Western Samoa in 1966.

He also had a degree in anthropology and art history.

Dr Bennington had a wide circle of friends and leaves a wife, Frances, two sons and a grand-daughter.

Arts Culture and Heritage Minister Christopher Finlayson expressed his sorrow at the deaths of Mr Bennington and Ms Jackson today.

"Seddon Bennington served Te Papa and the people of New Zealand well over his seven years as chief executive. He brought wide international experience and leadership to the role. He was well respected and will be sorely missed.

My deepest sympathies go to his family and the staff and board of Te Papa, and to the family of Marcella Jackson."