With oxygen tanks in the boot of his car, Rotorua's long-serving deputy mayor,' />


* Rotorua's deputy mayor. Died aged 71.

With oxygen tanks in the boot of his car, Rotorua's long-serving deputy mayor, Johnny Lepper, was determined to continue attending meetings right up until his death this week.

The 71-year-old was one of the city's most prominent figures and his failing health did not stop him from chairing the Rotorua Regional Airport Company's meeting last week or attending to his council duties.

He died at his Ngongotaha home on Tuesday morning after enduring months of illness.

Airport manager Bob Wynn said Mr Lepper was completely committed to serving the Rotorua community even though he knew he had only a short time to live.

"He actually brightened up when he was at a meeting.

"He enjoyed the mental challenge. His body was obviously letting him down but he really enjoyed working with people in meetings."

At the time of his death, Mr Lepper had served as a Rotorua District Councillor for 22 years and was also chairman of the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust.

He had been either a member, chairman or past president of more than 20 organisations including the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Tauranga Harbour Board and Federated Farmers.

Those who worked with him praised his dedication and ability to work with others.

Rotorua Mayor Grahame Hall said the city had lost an icon, and he had lost one of his closest friends.

"I feel like I've had my right arm cut off."

Mr Lepper was deputy mayor for 16 years, the past 10 alongside Mr Hall.

"He was an absolute loyal supporter right through to the end. His family and his community work meant everything to him," the mayor said.

Mr Lepper was a Justice of the Peace and received the Queen's Service Medal in 1987 in recognition of his council work - and cattle breeding, country music, wrestling and gymnastic activities.

He also ran a wood and coal depot, a garage and a trucking firm.

As head of the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust, Mr Lepper oversaw $5.5 million worth of millennium projects in the area, which Mr Hall described as "a wonderful legacy to the city".

Mr Lepper is survived by his wife, Olive, and their three children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandson.