Rotorua has lost one of its most respected kaumatua with the death of the Reverend Hapi Winiata.

Highly regarded throughout the country, Koro Hapi, as he was affectionately known, died in Rotorua Hospital in the early hours yesterday after a long battle with illness.

Although he was a modest man and found it hard to accept, many people referred to Rev Winiata as the paramount chief of Te Arawa.

He would have been celebrating his 70th birthday next Monday but instead his nehunga (funeral) will be held.

Rev Winiata will lie in state at the premier meeting house of Te Arawa, Tamatekapua at Ohinemutu, until then.

Robert Biddle said his uncle had been an asset not only to Maori and Pakeha but to all people.

"He was even the president of the Rotorua French Club. He gave his heart to everyone, to Nga Hau e Wha [the four winds]. The iwi is going to miss him, especially Ngati Whakaue. He was our pou tokomanawa [centre pillar]. For the family he was Te Ahi O Nga Uri Rangatira [our guiding light].."

Born Te Wihapi David Te Kanohimohoao Winiata, he lived most of his life in Rotorua. Mr Winiata attended Rotorua Primary School and Whakarewarewa Native School before heading to Te Aute College in Hawke's Bay.

Medical problems saw his return from the Hawke's Bay to continue his high school education at the then Rotorua High and Grammar School.

With his faith heavily steeped in the Anglican Church, he was a lay member of Ohinemutu's St Faith's Church until 1978 when he entered the ministry serving in the Ohinemutu, Te Ngae, Whakarewarewa, Ngapuna, Owhata, Mourea, Rotoiti, Western Heights, Ngongotaha, Mamaku, Taupo, Waitetoko and Turangi pastorates for more than 30 years.

Majoring in art at school, Rev Winiata had a passion for watercolour, pencil and pastel work, enjoying drawing cartoons and painting landscapes and figure forms. He designed monograms and logos for local organisations including Te Papa Takaro O Te Arawa and the Whakarewarewa Rugby Club.

Mr Winiata was a keen rugby supporter and played for Whakarewarewa and Waikite for nearly 20 years, refereeing games in the mid 1970s.

He was a kaumatua and life member of the Waikite Rugby Football Club.

In 1953 he designed the mascot Hori Bop for the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union. The same year Mr Winiata's father died and he left school at 19 to join the workforce to support his family.

His working life began with the Maori Land Court section of the Department of Maori Affairs where he remained for 33 years until his retirement in 1989.

He first became involved in working for his people on the marae about 40 years ago and has been a board member or adviser on more than 30 local Maori committees and organisations, government departments, educational institutions and health services.

The Rotorua District Council acknowledged Mr Winiata's contributions to Maoridom and the wider community earlier this year with an award for community service.