One of New Zealand's most highly ranked and decorated former army officers, Brigadier Ian Thorpe, has died.

He was surrounded by his family when he died today at the age of 88.

His death came just days after he celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary with his dearly loved wife, Pat.

Thorpe (Brig. Gen 31359) had a military career that spanned more than 50 years, during which he served two monarchs and two countries - New Zealand and Fiji.

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Brigadier IanThorpe CBE was the guest speaker at last year's Anzac civic service in Rotorua. Photo / File
Brigadier IanThorpe CBE was the guest speaker at last year's Anzac civic service in Rotorua. Photo / File

Living in Tarawera since 1960, it was trout fishing and sailing that lured the family to the area.

He was an integral member of the local community. For some years Thorpe was Tarawera and neighbouring Rotomahana lakes' launch master. Alongside his wife, they also ran a sailing school.

Thorpe was 17 when his army career began as a cadet in Australia's Royal Military College, Duntroon.

His first New Zealand posting was Papakura Military Camp where he instructed compulsory military trainees (CMT).

Thorpe's Bay of Plenty introduction was in the early 1950s when he was appointed adjutant of the Hauraki Regiment.

He served in Fiji, teaching himself Fijian, as commander tackling communist insurgents in the Malayan jungles.

After marrying, the pair settled in Wellington and Thorpe oversaw the military's involvement in a major SEATO conference.

In 1962 the Thorpes moved to England where Thorpe was seconded to the UK Staff College.

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Thorpe was summoned back to Malaya (now Malaysia), helping clear up the remnants of communists active in Indonesia and Borneo.

At the height of the Vietnam War he was second-in-command of the Anzac Battalion in Nui Dat.

He also served in the UK, Australia and with the SAS. When he retired in 1974 he was director of this country's defence operations.

Fiji snaffled him up - twice, first as its Commander of Military Forces then as Commandant of the Fiji Officers' School and military adviser to the government.

He has 14 honours and decorations, including CBE, OF (Officer of the Order of Fiji), MSD (Meritorious Service Decoration), MID, (Mentioned in Dispatches).

On April 25 last year, he was the guest speaker at Rotorua's Anzac Day Civic Service.

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Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick extended her condolences to Thorpe's family, describing him as a "man of enormous stature, both in his military career and as a civilian".

"He was a great man who served his country and contributed to his community.

"We have lost someone who made an important contribution both to New Zealand and to the Rotorua community.

"He considered himself to have been fortunate in life. We consider ourselves fortunate to have benefitted from his military and community service."

A service will be held at Rotorua Cemetery 160 Sala St, Rotorua 2pm on Wednesday followed by a celebration of his life at the community centre, Alexander Rd, Lake Tarawera at 5pm.