The Far North lost one of its greatest champions, and a true character, with the death of Norm (of the North) Bryan on Tuesday evening.

Mr Bryan died peacefully at Kaitaia Hospital, surrounded by his family, after what his wife Sylvia described as a sudden and very short illness. He was six weeks short of celebrating his 80th birthday, and little more than six months short of celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary.

Mr Bryan made his living on the land at Motutangi, south of Houhora — he used his Facebook page to declare himself New Zealand's top dairy farmer, which geographically speaking he no doubt was — but he gained fame and affection in numerous other personas.

"He believed in his community and worked extraordinarily hard to take others with him, but he was never shy about doing the spadework."

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He was a born entertainer, a minstrel, a radio star, a stockman, a bullock driver (including a stint at the Wagener Museum at Houhora Heads, where Wilf Wagener's bullock team was a tourist attraction in its own right), a raconteur, an incurable optimist, and an indefatigable believer in the power of community.

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An active supporter of JMB rugby for many years, he played a pivotal role in Kaitaia's Christmas parade, invariably taking part as the central, heavily disguised character who children lined Kaitaia's main street to see.

When the parade was consigned to history he fought to have it reinstated, but in the interim donned his suit once again to take up residence at Te Ahu, where the children who confided their Christmas wishlists to him would not have recognised him, but his voice gave him away to all who knew him without fail.

It was his singing, accompanied by a constant stream of banter that won him his biggest audience, but in 2010 he gained renewed national prominence when he became the unofficial spokesman for drought-stricken farmers in the Far North.

Mayor John Carter described him yesterday as an icon, a man who worked tirelessly for his community, and was always there to do the heavy lifting.

"He believed in his community and worked extraordinarily hard to take others with him, but he was never shy about doing the spadework," Mr Carter said.

"He was an enormously valuable friend and asset to the Far North. Perhaps someone will step up now to take his place, but I doubt we'll ever see another Norm Bryan."

Mr Bryan's funeral will be at the Waiharara Hall at 11am on Monday, followed by interment at the Waiharara cemetery.