• Charles Sturt bows out of Rotorua Lakes Council election race
• Long serving Rotorua councillor Charles Sturt dies after battle with cancer
• Long-standing Rotorua councillors Karen Hunt and Charles Sturt given emotional farewell
• Hundreds gather for funeral of Rotorua community stalwart Charles Sturt
Charles Sturt was in his element.
He was judging a Rotorua teachers' lip-syncing competition in September last year - an event he had been involved with for 16 years.
Competition organiser and friend Garry de Thierry said despite Sturt's failing body following his cancer diagnosis, there were glimmers of the "Charles we knew and respected", with positivity and wit.
De Thierry retold the story at Sturt's funeral yesterday, which was attended by more than 400 people who packed into the Ngongotahā Community Hall to say farewell to the Rotorua District Councillor of 33 years.
Sturt died on his 64th birthday on Thursday last week after a three-year battle with cancer.
De Thierry said you "never knew the true value of a moment until it became a memory" and he would never forget Sturt on that night at the competition.
While telling the crowd it would be his last given he was terminal, Sturt was given a standing ovation.
"When he came off the stage, I asked him 'do you want anything mate?'
Sturt replied: "No thanks, I just want to go home, I'm in so much pain."
Students perform moving haka at Charles Sturt's funeral
De Thierry helped Sturt to the door but on his way out he still paused to speak to those who came to acknowledge him.
"Even in that moment when he was in immense pain, he was still giving to the people and his community. At that moment I saw all those values I respected in you, your courage, your warmth and your endless desire to give to others."
It was just one of the stories about Sturt that unfolded over two-and-a-half hours of laughter and tears yesterday.
The sentiment was that Sturt's life ended too soon, but in his 64 years he packed in so much, he earned the right to forever be known as "truly a champion".
He was a "political pitbull", a devoted family man who always acknowledged his wife Denise, a lover of diversity, a sports fanatic and a rugby referee who dared to send off All Black great Hika Reid in a game - much to the dissatisfaction of his old mate and fellow long-serving councillor Trevor Maxwell who was going "ballistic" on the sideline.
Staunchly devoted to the community of Ngongotahā, Sturt's funeral fittingly started with a rousing haka performed by Ngongotahā School pupils.
New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner Wallace Haumaha was Master of Ceremonies and recalled many years of great Ngongotahā memories, both being dairy owners and staunch rugby supporters.
"How will we remember this man who gave so much to this town?" Haumaha asked the crowd.
He said when he picked up the Rotorua Daily Post on the day after Sturt's death, it had the headline "truly a champion".
"That really resonated ... what made Charles a true champion? The words came easily, excellence, passion, commitment, sincerity."
Other words that summed up Sturt were "integrity, respect, honour and honesty", Haumaha said.
The eulogies were delivered by Sturt's older sister Christine West and Denise's aunt Ellen Lias-Smith.
West spoke of their multi-racial upbringing in Manuka Cres where it didn't matter who you were or where you came from.
She spoke of his dog trialling and horse breeding days, his love of gardening and flowers and their special trip to Australia in August last year as a family.
Having successfully fought prostate cancer many years ago, West said it was unfair for him to get cancer again but he fought as hard as possible while "getting his ducks in a row" as he faced the inevitable.
Lias-Smith said how Sturt first met Denise, at one of Irene Oliver's dance schools where he danced with her and stepped on her toes.
They went on to marry in March 1979, going through many adventures together, including having three children - Elizabeth, Cameron and William - and running businesses including the Ngongotahā Four Square, Diane Diary, Koolens Bakehouse and in recent years going into partnership selling real estate for Professionals McDowell Real Estate.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said Sturt's voice had been silenced and his pain had now disappeared.
She described him as a "genuine character" of Rotorua who was always supportive of her, including when she was an MP for Labour despite his New Zealand First allegiances.
"He was a political pitbull, never the mayor's poodle, nipping at the heels of the opposition."
He championed causes such as no fluoridation in Rotorua's water, sinking homes on Western Rd, Rotorua's racecourse, MMP politics and was a great supporter of the council's partnership with Te Arawa, Chadwick said.
"He was black and white, literally and figuratively ... He loved politics and would often text me in Parliament telling me what to do next and what to say now."
Chadwick said his loyalty was "astonishing".
"He fired on Facebook at all hours of the day and night."
Te Arawa Lakes Trust chairman Sir Toby Curtis said to say Sturt had a social conscience was a "gross understatement".
Trevor Maxwell, who has been a district councillor since 1977, said he had been with Sturt through the good times and bad.
"The last year or so has been the not so good times. It's been hard to see a dear friend suffer."
Some his fondest memories was watching their prized Ngongotahā rugby players.
"We were the most excited supporters. We always said our support was worth 10 points to the team."
New Zealand First MP Fletcher Tabuteau said he started working behind the scenes of the party when Sturt stood in the Rotorua electorate. Despite not being elected, he later supported him in his political endeavours.
"Charles, may you rest in peace and may your ideas and passion live on," Tabuteau said
Sturt's coffin was carried out while those attending sang a rousing rendition of Whakaaria Mai. The coffin was loaded into the back of a hearse where pupils at Ngongotahā School formed a guard of honour along the road as the funeral procession passed.
As the hearse drove off to Sturt's final resting place at Kauae Cemetery, the Ngongotahā Fire Brigade's siren rang out breaking the eerie silence that signalled there will never be another like Charles Sturt.