Kiwis have expressed their mourning after learning of Dame Thea Muldoon's passing.

Dame Thea - the wife of former Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon - passed away peacefully yesterday, aged 87.

Prime Minister John Key said he had met Dame Thea on a number of occasions, and he thanked her for her contribution to New Zealand.

"She made a significant contribution to her community and the country - something she was recognised for when she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and awarded the Queen's Service Order for Community Service.

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"She was also a huge supporter of her husband, the late former Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon, and as Prime Minister today I recognise how important that is," Mr Key said.

Born Thea Dale Flyger, Lady Muldoon was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1993 New Year Honours, and awarded the Queen's Service Order in the 1986 New Year Honours.

She married Sir Robert in 1951 after meeting him through the Junior Nationals. The couple had three children.

Gavin Muldoon, the youngest of the three children, said his mother passed away peacefully.

"She was a kind and caring person who in her later years spent a lot of time with charities and various other organisations.

"We always remember her as always being there. We have fond memories of her and are sad to she that's she's gone."

Dame Thea is survived by her son Gavin Muldoon and daughter, and 12 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer, who represents Orakei, also expressed his condolences following Dame Thea's death.

"Muldoon's loveliest Lilly has gone," he said in a statement.

"She worked long and hard for New Zealand, and life wasn't always easy for her."

Former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon with Miss Universe Lorraine Downes (centre) and Dame Thea Muldoon in 1983. Photo / NZ Herald archives
Former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon with Miss Universe Lorraine Downes (centre) and Dame Thea Muldoon in 1983. Photo / NZ Herald archives

Referencing the 1977 Ngati Whatua occupation of Bastion Point, when Maori protested the lack of Treaty of Waitangi settlements with the Muldoon Government, Mr Brewer said: "Ironically she spent some of her final years as a tenant of Ngati Whatua at Orakei's Eastcliffe Retirement Village, just metres away from where the Bastion Point occupation was based for 507 days in the late 1970s, successfully resisting attempts by Sir Robert for the Whenua Rangatira to become housing."

The occupation only ended in May 1978 when 800 police and the New Zealand Army were used to forcibly remove the occupiers, arresting 222 protesters in the process.

The land was returned to Ngati Whatua in the 1980s, with compensation.

A service to celebrate Dame Thea's life will be held at the All Saint's Chapel, in Meadowbank, on Tuesday March 3 at 1.30pm.

In lieu of flowers, her family have requested donations to St Andrews Village Trust.

- additional reporting Teuila Fuatai