Charles Sturt was a big personality with a warm heart, a heart passionate about the community, a heart which was fuelled by standing up for what was right.
But now the Rotorua community is in mourning after the man with a heart of gold has died.
Charles Sturt's fight with cancer ended yesterday after exactly 64 years in this world. He was in his home surrounded by his family.
He was in hospice care for several weeks after learning at the start of this year the cancer drug he had been taking to keep his tumours at bay was no longer working.
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Those who knew him said his family was his passion.
He is survived by his wife, Denise, children Elizabeth, William and Cameron, grandchildren Charlie, Finley, Hunter and Henry, and children-in-law James and Crystal.
Sturt, a former Rotorua district councillor of 33 years, started his political career at the Ngongotahā County Borough Council.
Last year, he publically announced his battle with cancer since 2017 had become terminal and he would stand down from local body politics.
"I got home from my surgery on my spine and I thought, 'What am I going to achieve in the next three years?' Everything I had planned has been finished or is already in the Long-Term Plan and is budgeted for," he told the Rotorua Daily Post last August.
The cancer started in his kidney, moved into his spinal column and into the right side of his neck before veering across to the left side of his neck and into his left shoulder.
In his last interview with the Rotorua Daily Post at the end of last month, he said he needed up to $80,000 to prolong his life as the funded cancer drug that was helping to prolong his life was no longer working.
But he refused to accept public funding for help.
In true Charles fashion, he said he would rather see the money go to the Child Cancer Foundation - a charity that had been close to his heart.
Child Cancer Foundation general manager David Baker said the news of Sturt's passing was incredibly sad, and his impact within the organisation matched up to his spirit: huge.
"He would've changed the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of children and their families."
Baker said he was an "energetic and enthusiastic fundraiser" and the foundation was incredibly grateful for the good work he had done.
This was just the person Professionals McDowell Real Estate co-owner Steve Lovegrove knew.
Lovegrove worked alongside Sturt and said he was a "big personality with an even bigger heart".
"He just stood up for principle and integrity, and honesty ... that real bravery to stand up and say what he thinks.
"It was never about Charles, it was about what Charles was standing up for … he would be the first person to muck in for things that are right."
The McDowell Real Estate team, which was more a family, was grappling with the shock and sadness of Sturt's death.
"It's going to leave a big gap in just the colour of life that he brought."
And anyone who knew Sturt knew his heart had Ngongotahā carved into it.
Ngongotahā Primary School, nestled in the community he adored, had taught Sturt's children and now his grandchildren.
"Charles was a true Ngongotahā man ... everything he did was for the people," principal Craig McFadyen said.
He said Sturt played a big role in the school and would work "tirelessly" making sure others reaped the benefits.
A group of children would attend the funeral to share with the family what Sturt meant to the school.
Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha said Sturt was a "close and dear friend" of the Ngongotahā community, who would be truly missed.
He said he was a "well-respected councillor, businessman and sports coach" who's commitment and dedication was something to be admired.
Sturt had close connections with a number of marae in Ngongotahā and Te Arawa and was "truly a champion" when it came to doing the right thing, he said.
Ngongotaha Sports and Community Association expressed their "deepest sympathy" on social media to the family and friends of Sturt.
"Charles was a Ngongotaha community-minded man whose passion and pride for our village, and club, was immense," the post read.
Comments on social media express saddness at the loss and the work he did for the community.
One person wrote: "Charles was our property agent when we bought our first home. A gem of a man".
"You were such a crack-up, but always had all our backs," another wrote.
"Charles looked after Ngongotahā while in council. Know that people all over are there for you and sorry you have lost your life partner," another person wrote to the family.
Politicians pay tribute
The former councillor said it was "a very sad day for the Rotorua community" that lost a good person who was a strong advocate for the people of Ngonotaha.
Gould worked alongside Sturt and remembered how he stood up for three homes on Western Rd, Ngonotaha, between 2010 and 2013.
He joined other councillors in being the voice for property owners living in sinking homes, outwardly disapproving of the way the council was handling it.
Rotorua National MP Todd McClay
He first met Sturt on the campaign trail a decade ago and was personally grateful for his advice and support.
"He'd decide not to get involved with national elections, however, freely offered his opinion and critique when asked, and occasionally when not."
He was saddened by Sturt's passing and said "a huge amount" was given to the place he loved - Rotorua.
"He was forthright with his views, passionate about racing and sport and a tireless advocate for our city. His service was exceptional and deserves significant recognition."
Mayor Steve Chadwick
Mayor Steve Chadwick spoke on behalf of the Rotorua Lakes Council, saying Sturt was "absolutely passionate, almost to a fault, about Ngongotahā – he loved his 'Ngongy' and the people and iwi of Ngongotahā".
"Charles was a fighter for Rotorua. He cared deeply about this district and its people and about contributing towards a positive future for Rotorua."
He was a man fiercely determined to serve his community throughout his illness and pain.
"While he was a tough man, he was also very tender at heart and above all he was a loving family man, devoted to his wife, Denise, and extremely proud of his children and mokopuna.
She remembered his love for a bit of "verbal biffo" and also had a deep knowledge of politics.
She remembered his various passions and interests including rugby and racing but extending to all sports and local sportspeople.
She said he was "totally one-eyed about rugby and was impossible to be with at rugby games so I learned to steer clear of he and his mate Trevor Maxwell at rugby games".
"I spent time with him the day he came out of hospital and was placed into Hospice care at home and he was in fine form that day, surrounded by three of his greatest loves – family, flowers from his garden and the racing channel."
Former councillor Glenys Searancke
Retired councillor Glenys Searancke was on the council with Sturt for 24 years and said they were often at odds with each other over the council table and would debate their points of view on policy and public opinion "in a no-holds-barred manner".
"[But] we would listen to each other and mainly make compromises which resulted in some excellent decisions.
"We would gather in the councillors' room afterwards and have a laugh and a glass
and move on to the next pressing issue with no acrimony.
"You won some, you lost some but we both moved on without bitterness," she said.
"Charles was a hard-working councillor and accomplished much for Rotorua in his time."
Charles Sturt 1956-2020
* Married to Denise
* Three children, Elizabeth, William and Cameron
* Four grandchildren
* Real estate agent with Denise at Professionals McDowell Real Estate
* Ngongotaha County Borough Council member 1982/83
* District councillor from 1989-96, then 1996 to today (when Denise nearly died giving birth to Cameron he resigned, forcing a byelection which was won by Steve Chadwick).
* Survived prostate cancer in 2013
* Former race horse breeder/owner
* Former owner of Dianne Diary and Koolens Bakehouse
* Member of several sporting groups and school boards