"You have to let her go."
Blue lips and barely breathing, Stuart Pedersen's final acts before he died were to help keep his wife alive.
Those who gathered at his funeral service yesterday were told Pedersen's selfless actions were typical of a man who was always helping others.
Pedersen's rich and bright life was highlighted in stories and anecdotes shared by friends and family.
His three sisters shared childhood memories of his need to take things apart; old school friends recalled a gangly and fun-loving teen who rolled a ute at Blueberry Corner near his hometown of Whakatane and business colleagues spoke of a whipsmart businessman so savvy with finances, he'd retired at age 40.
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But it was Pedersen's actions on October 14 that drew the most tears from those seated, standing and spilling outside the Pyes Pa funeral home.
Pedersen was sailing back from a trip to the Pacific Islands with wife Pamela, sailing friend Bruce Goodwin and brother-in-law Stephen Newman when they became caught in a massive storm that destroyed his 47-foot yacht.
The four escaped the sinking vessel having put out a mayday call. As they waited in the surging water, about 30km from Cape Brett in Northland, they grew weaker.
Eventually, help arrived and a liferaft was dropped to them. Only Goodwin and Newman made it inside. Pedersen and Pamela became tangled in ropes and unable to get in.
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As they grew colder, Pedersen held Pamela tightly.
Newman told the crowd that 10 days later, Pamela still had bruises on her arms from Pedersen holding her aloft. She had hit her head when the yacht first got into trouble, and Pedersen ensured she would not go under.
"All the time I was in the water, I never once saw Stuart take his hands off Pamela. Most of the time he held her head, she wasn't talking much and barely there, semi-comatose. As he got weaker, he held her arms. She got bruises on her arms. He never let her go. When the diver was cutting her free from Stuart, I could see Stuart still holding Pam's hands.
"I told him, 'you have to let her go'.
"Stuart loved Pamela so much."
Pedersen and Pamela's sons Sven and Theo paid tribute to the bravery of their father.
Sven told the crowd his father was amazing.
"Because of his bravery, I'm inspired to live my own dreams to the full. He's my hero."
Theo said the best way to honour his dad was to live life to the full, as he did.
Pedersen spent several years sailing his family around the world, returning to Tauranga in 2008 when he joined the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club.
A framed photograph of Pedersen and Pamela with Sven and Theo on board a yacht stood proud at the entrance to the hall, where the service was held and countless images of Pedersen sailing faded in and out of montages in tribute.
Friend Roger Clark said a small blessing in the loss of Pedersen was knowing he spent the past five months doing what he loved with the person he loved most.
Through tears, and a strained voice, Pamela shared the pain of losing her "wonderful husband".
Pamela referred to his drive to help make the community a better place.
"He contributed so much and wanted to do much more," she said.
"The whole community that he loved so much has lost a mighty man."
In 1980, Pedersen became a founding employee and shareholder of investment firm Spicers Portfolio Management.
Craig Dawson from Spicers said Pedersen had been a constant since those early days, bringing self-belief and strength of character in times when those attributes were needed most.
"There were times where the company could not afford to pay Stuart properly, but Stuart was there when it got its first client to when it got over a billion in funds of financial management."
In 2011, Pedersen established the Bay of Plenty Sailing Academy Trust, offering underprivileged children the opportunity to sail. Pedersen was also instrumental in helping disabled people get into sailing.
Clark said while Pedersen was a big believer in individual choices and personal responsibility, he was hugely generous. One of the academy students was unable to attend after her mother lost her driver licence from committing a crime. Pedersen travelled to the other side of town to pick up and drop off that student to ensure she could still attend the academy.
In 2014, Pedersen joined the Act Party, becoming its Tauranga candidate and "most loved member", Bay of Plenty candidate Bruce Carley said.
Pedersen was also a member of the Tauranga Sunrise Rotary Group.
Former mayor, friend and fellow Rotary member Greg Brownless said that even though Pedersen had died, his contributions and memories lived on in the community and his loved ones.
"Stuart's contribution has been amazing and those memories will carry on.''