Whanganui identity and community advocate Ray Stevens has died.

The long-serving district councillor, who owned Double S Motordrome at Westmere, was well-known for dispensing jokes, opinions, advice and lollipops to his customers.

It is understood he died in hospital after a short illness.

Stevens was a passionate advocate for the community and served on many local organisations.

Advertisement

He was a Whanganui District Councillor for 19 years after being elected in a by-election in 1997, leading the infrastructure portfolio for most of his time on council.

He contested the Whanganui mayoralty three times.

Stevens also had several terms as a Whanganui District Health Board member before losing both his council and DHB seats in October 2016.

During his time as a councillor, Stevens headed several campaigns in Whanganui to raise funds for communities affected by incidents such as the Australian bush fires in 2009, the Pike River Mine tragedy, the Northland flood appeal in 2008, and the tsunami in Samoa.

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said he was saddened by Stevens' passing.

"He was a great servant to the Whanganui community - always willing to fight for the ordinary citizen. He was an exceptional chair of the Infrastructure Committee running a very efficient meeting, and was council's man on point for Civil Defence.

"My main memory was his good humour - he was always ready with a quip and even when we disagreed about something during a meeting he would always throw in some wit to keep things civil.

"I saw him just a few weeks ago and he was keen to stand for the council again this year. He seemed well and his death, so soon after my dear friend [former councillor] Sue Westwood, has come as a huge shock.

Advertisement

"Whanganui has lost a great character. RIP Ray."

Deputy mayor Jenny Duncan also paid tribute to Stevens.

"It was quite a shock to learn last evening of the passing of past Cr Ray Stevens," Duncan said.

"As a councillor since the 1990s Ray has made a huge contribution to our community.

"We will remember his larger than life character and his immense generosity to those around him. Personally, I had a close working relationship with Ray and despite our opposing views on a number of matters, I was privileged to get to know the man behind the sometimes gruff exterior. Not only was Ray the first to call a spade a spade but he would be the first to respond to a call for help - be that the bush fires in Australia or a community group or individual in need in Whanganui.

"Whanganui has lost a passionate and dedicated servant to our community, a great character and a very caring man."

One of Steven's passions was thoroughbred horse racing.

He bred most of those he raced over the years and in latter times trained by Waverley farmer Bill Thurlow who said news of Stevens' death was "a very sad occasion".

"We have trained horses for Ray over the past four or five years and unfortunately most of those were slow ones.

"But his latest filly, Beyond The Fort, named in honour of his late son Justin, is a very smart galloper and has won her first two races.

"Sadly Ray would not have seen her second win on Saturday because he took ill and was in hospital.

"On Thursday he was just so excited about the prospects of her racing.

"Our condolences go out to Ray's family."