She had grace and poise backed up with knowledge and she could command the stage simply with her smile.
She was Kiriwaitingi (Del) Delamere Pare Rei (nee Aratema).
The adored former Rotorua Girls' High School teacher of more than 20 years died at the weekend aged 73 following an illness.
As the hearse left her home in Koutu yesterday, her body passed by Rotorua Girls' High School one last time.
Senior students and members of the school's Raukura kapa haka group with Rotorua Boys' High School performed a rousing haka before the students and teachers who stood in silence and paid their respects to Rei.
Te Arawa is mourning the loss of not only a great teacher but one of its greatest kapa haka performers and experts of poi.
Former Rotorua Girls High School principal Annette Joyce, who not only went to girls' high with Rei but also later taught with her at the school, said Rei taught harakeke, te reo and tikanga. She retired in 2012 but returned frequently as a reliever.
As a student of the school, Joyce remembers playing netball with Rei and recalls her incredible intercepts as well as speed around the court. She played representative netball and basketball and broke athletics records.
"The last thing I will always think about Del was her smile. She was quintessentially elegant."
Joyce said she backed up her presence with "enormous knowledge" about te ao Māori (all things Māori), particularly when it came to bloodlines.
She said she was known for going around the girls at school and asking them who they were and who they were related to, often connecting them to people and places they weren't aware of.
"Year after year she would do that and some of them would say 'thanks, miss, I know where I belong now'."
Joyce said she had fond memories of Rei on stage.
"She was the most beautiful kapa haka performer, everyone wanted to talk to Del."
She said Rei was a "very special individual all her life" and always interested in what you were doing.
"But my abiding memory of Del is her truly beautiful smile ... it lit up any group or room that she entered and raised your spirits high, manaakitanga personified."
Rotorua District Council cultural ambassador and Te Arawa kapa haka leader Trevor Maxwell said Rei was a graceful performer, a poi expert and leader in her field.
"Growing up in the Whaka village, she was born with a poi in her hand."
Maxwell said he had fond memories of Rei including getting his big break as a "young boy from Awahou to come to the big city of Rotorua" to join her and others as part of a kapa haka group that performed weekly for tourists at the Concert Chamber.
That laid the foundation of years of performing together that followed, including the pair being selected following a rigorous audition process to be members of the New Zealand Māori Theatre Trust. The trust toured Japan, Russia and Europe in 1970, showcasing Māori culture to the world.
"We were away from home for a long time, about three months, and I remember when we were in Russia, Del was crying and very upset. My wife (the late) Atareta and I asked her what was wrong and she told us she'd just heard that Guide Rangi had passed away. She was devastated because she grew up in the Whaka village with her and called her mum."
Maxwell said Rei's performing skills, particularly with poi, saw her selected as a judge for the national Te Matatini kapa haka championships.
"Te Arawa women were looked upon with glee and envy as the poi exponents of New Zealand and Del was right up there. Her performing skills came through with her children and her daughter was also a beautiful performer."
Rotorua District Councillor Mercia-Dawn Yates said she knew "Aunty Del" all her life as she performed with her late mother, Dixie Hikihiki Yates.
"Aunty Del was a very close friend and cousin of my late māmā's. They travelled the world together sharing the love of their culture, reo and waiata with the New Zealand Māori Theatre Trust in 1970.
"Aunty Del was many things, but I will always fondly remember her for being a gracefully poised performer who could command a stage with her smile."
Yates said Rei, her mother and Maxwell's late wife, Atareta Maxwell, set the scene for generations of cultural performers.
"These women and this group were responsible for the beauty and poise that was seen across our kapa haka stage."
Rei was yesterday taken to Te Pakira Marae at Whakarewarewa. Her funeral service will be held tomorrow at 11am before her burial at Kauae Cemetery.