Justice Sir Rodney Gallen is known among his peers not only as a wise and humanitarian senior jurist, but a man of many parts.

The 66-year-old has been knighted for his services as a judge of the High Court, from which he retired last month as one of the longest-serving on the Bench. He was the senior puisne judge who filled in when the Chief Justice was away.

A long-time leader of the Presbyterian Church, Sir Rodney is a fluent Maori speaker who has played a prominent role in community organisations including the Presbyterian Church's General Assembly joint committee with the Maori Synod, Te Aka Puaho.

After being admitted to the Bar in 1953, he made steady progress through the legal profession. He became a Queen's Counsel in 1978 and was appointed to the Bench in 1983.

He was chairman of the commission of inquiry into the Abbotsford landslip disaster and the committee of inquiry into procedures at the former Oakley psychiatric hospital. He is a former chairman of the Hillsbrook Children's Home and is now a trustee of the Mahi Tahi Trust, seeking to rehabilitate Maori prison inmates by immersing them in traditional cultural values.

"Rodney Gallen is a man of great mana who has made a huge contribution not only as a judge, but as a member of society," said a former colleague, Justice Goddard. "He has enormous faith in human nature and always sees the potential in people irrespective of the surrounding circumstances."

He was known for his quick wit, voracious reading, extensive Hawkes Bay garden and much-loved Norwegian elk hounds.

Sir Rodney's family ties lie in the Hawkes Bay, but his boyhood was spent in small towns on the East Cape, where his father was postmaster. There, he was first exposed to the Maori language which he continued to learn into his adult life.

Justice Goddard said Sir Rodney's knowledge of Maoridom had been priceless for the Judiciary. He spearheaded its cultural education committee to heighten awareness of Maori and law.

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said Sir Rodney's wide range of activities had kept him in touch with the community.

"He is a man of compassion who works tirelessly for others and is deeply committed to the rehabilitation of prisoners and to youth."

He never married or had children, but was at the hub of an extended family and was regarded with affection by everyone in the Judiciary, she said.

He was seen as a father to the children he met through the Hillsbrook Children's Home.