The New Zealand Defence Force is mourning the loss of one of its most popular and respected leaders, and a veteran stalwart of its support operation in Antarctica.

Major Mac McColl, or "Mac" as he was affectionately known at Scott Base and in the defence community, died on Saturday morning after a short battle with cancer.

His colleague, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Weston, said McColl was widely acknowledged for his skills in co-ordinating, planning and executing the transportation of personnel and supplies.

"His corporate knowledge and technical skills were well supported by his 'can-do' and pragmatic approach, his hard work, sense of duty and loyalty."


McColl, who joined the New Zealand Defence Force in 1977 as a Territorial Force field engineer, saw operational service in Sierra Leone and Timor Leste, along with several stints in Antarctica.

A recipient of seven medals, including the New Zealand Operational Service Medal and the United Nations Medal Sierra Leone Medal, McColl held a range of development and training appointments as a soldier before being promoted to major in 2004.

"Apart from his professional achievements and the respect in which he was so widely held, Mac was also notable for his sense of humour, camaraderie and willingness to assist others," Weston said.

His association with Antarctica lasted three decades, in a range of roles with the US Antarctic Program's Operation Deep Freeze, the NZDF's Operation Antarctica and Antarctica New Zealand.

Most recently, he was seconded to Antarctica New Zealand as the New Zealand defence senior national officer and key member of the planning and logistics team.

His role also extended to a stint at Scott Base, forming part of its leadership team for half of the 2015-16 summer season.

Major Mac McColl. Photo: Supplied
Major Mac McColl. Photo: Supplied

Antarctica New Zealand's Antarctic operation general manager, Simon Trotter, said McColl's passions were logistics, aviation, planning and people, so it was no surprise that his role satisfied his appetite for challenges.

"Mac was a respected leader bringing a range of proven skills, knowledge and experience to the Antarctic environment."

McColl was also a great believer in the value of a cup of tea and a good conversation with other people, Trotter said.


"He valued relationships with his colleagues and National Antarctic Program associates greatly."

Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Peter Beggs said McColl's strong leadership presence, mentoring skills and humour were "consistent features" of his character.

"The measure of a person is often reflected in the positive impacts and quality of relationships had with others," Beggs said.

"Mac will certainly be remembered for his great qualities, the friendships formed and teaching as the value of the simple things in life such as a good cup of tea and conversation with others.

"His enduring smile and sense of humour will live on in our memories."

Mac is survived by his wife Diane and their son Alex.