Derek Packham was a Tarawera resident who gave his time freely to others while always putting family first.

The 71-year-old, who regularly wrote letters to the editor at the Rotorua Daily Post, died on Thursday after suffering a sudden heart attack.

Packham grew up in Rotorua after his family moved from England when he was 8.

He met his wife, Valerie, in the Rotorua Tramping Club which, as well as the ski club, was a huge part of his younger life.

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"All I could say is he made my life joyful," Valerie said.

The pair had been married for 44 years - a time that did not seem that long to his wife.

They bought property in Tarawera but moved to Rotorua after having their sons, Richard and Christopher, keeping the Tarawera property as a frequent weekend or holiday spot.

The couple moved back to Tarawera after their sons left home.

A Jack of all trades, he managed to pack a lot into his life and into the Tarawera community.

Family was always first and his adoration of his six grandchildren constantly had him on the sidelines at sport events, at school productions, or just precious downtime.

"He couldn't be beaten as a grandfather," Valerie said. "He was anything any kid could want."

His interests had no limit be it trout fishing, helping with wasp control and native wildlife protection in Tarawera.

He was a Tarawera volunteer firefighter and worked in the community gardens.

He gave time to others and found joy in giving back.

His wife owned her own business as an occupational health nurse.

"And naturally he trained up to help me with that too on a part-time basis," she said.

"He had a great interest in issues and events - real things that happened in the world."

He had written letters to the Rotorua Daily Post for many years in which he used to outline his opinion of issues of local interest, described by his family as an outlet and an extension to his commitment to the community.

His son, Richard Packham, said his father was a big, friendly guy, happy to have a chat to anyone.

A private cremation has been held and a memorial celebration will be held at a later date.