A cheeky grin and a phone to his ear was a typical pose for Phillip Bryan Hourigan.

Shearing was Phill Hourigan's passion that became his livelihood.

He could easily have walked straight off the pages of a Barry Crump novel.

Well, that's how many perceived the incredibly popular and well-liked Hourigan.

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But unlike many of Crump's lead characters, Hourigan (or Huri as most knew him) was a family man and instead of living off his wits, he carved out a comfortable life for his wife and children using his considerable skills.

And just like many of Crump's characters, Huri was a "good bastard", a "good Kiwi bloke" who was loved and respected by thousands.

His funeral service in the Eulogy Lounge at the Wanganui Racecourse last Wednesday was testament to that. Conservative head counts put the crowd at around 900, bordering on 1000. By Whanganui, or any other city standards, that is a huge turnout.

Born in Masterton on May 12, 1967, Huri passed away suddenly in Whanganui Hospital from brain bleed aged just 52 on Thursday, July 25.

Huri grew up in Turakina, a small Rangitikei settlement just south of Whanganui, so the farming way of life was never far from his mind.

His father Bryan ran Waipu, a farm near Ratana.

Like most youngsters Huri was into all manner of physical endeavour, but shearing was to become one of his main lifetime passions.

In fact, shearing was to become his main career focus and he was a pretty dab hand at the art, despite two serious bouts of open heart surgery - one as a teenager, the other just 12 years ago.

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Friends and workmates say they would never had noticed. In his heyday, it was nothing for Huri to shear a tally in the 500s a day.

An astute thinker with a quick academic mind, Huri was near the top of his class at the then Flockhouse agricultural training school in 1985. That was the equivalent to 7th Form or Year 13. He was just as good with his hands.

It wasn't uncommon for Phillip Hourigan shear a tally in the 500s a day in his heyday. Photo / Supplied
It wasn't uncommon for Phillip Hourigan shear a tally in the 500s a day in his heyday. Photo / Supplied

In 1990 he travelled to England with early childhood Turakina School mate Ian "Grunter" Grant where the pair shore sheep for a living in Dorset.

"Huri's older brother Derrick was also in Britain shearing in Wales and we went to shear there too after we finished in Dorset," Grunter recalled.

Derrick was two years older and came into shearing only after completing a painting apprenticeship. He soon caught up with his younger sibling and the pair regularly competed to see who could shear the highest tally. Who won that battle depended on which one you asked the question of.

Following the stint in the UK, Huri tackled the shearing scene in the United States, working on stands in Colorado and Wyoming and also spent time in Western Australia with good mate and fellow shearer Craig "Sinker" Sinclair.

"Huri packed more into 52 years than anyone I know," Grant said.

Huri was rarely sighted without his hallmark cheeky grin and his happy nature was infectious.

Even back as a teenager Huri had that infectious good nature.

Longtime friend Phil (Molly) Gardiner touched on during his eulogy to his good mate.

"I'm sorry Tracy but I'm going to have to mention this," Gardiner warned.

"When I was dating Tracy's sister I took Huri to their place on Durie Hill a few times. One of those times he'd had a bit to drink and was looking a bit green around the gills. Their brother was a cheeky young thing and was giving Huri a bit of lip about it. I was thinking don't get too close boy and before he could get out of the way Huri had puked all over him."

Tracy later pointed out that they were only in their teens at that stage and she and Huri were not even dating.

"I didn't take much notice of him back then. It wasn't until much later that I thought he was a bit hot," Tracy recalled.

He was a hard worker bordering on a workaholic, but it was all for his family.

Huri had set up Hourigan Shearing, but with the threat of declining sheep numbers from dairying, forestry, beekeeping and honey production he found the need to add extra income streams to the family business.

For 18 years Huri contracted to Wanganui Veterinary Services to pregnancy scan ewes throughout the region.

For seven years straight he also performed AI (artificial insemination) for LIC (Livestock Improvement Corporation). He also offered an electronic sheep dipping service using a magic eye.

Three years ago Huri took over Lee Matson's shearing run. Matson had operated arguably the largest shearing contracting business in the region for many years.

Hourigan's wife Tracy said her husband had bought the business to shut the gate on outsiders entering the industry in the region.

"Phillip didn't want outsiders coming in with their own shearers and possibly putting the locals out of work, so took over Lee Matson's run to keep everyone in work, that was just typical of him," Tracy said.

"Sheep were our livelihood, but Phillip really did want a dairy herd and everything he did was working toward that."

He and Tracy had created a family environment at home where the children could flourish and have the self-belief they could achieve whatever they set their heart on.

Daughter Paige is a prime example of that. She is the current New Zealand No 1 woman tennis player since the retirement of Marina Erakovic and now plays on the international profession circuit.

Huri was also a talented artist and had a portfolio to prove it.

"I didn't know until well after we got together, but he was very good. He had one selected by the National Walkways Commission as a publicity poster."

In the meantime, friends and staff have pitched in to keep the family business ticking over until decisions are made about the future.

"We just discovered it's going to take three people to do the work Phillip did on his own," Tracy said.

Phillip Bryan Hourigan is survived by wife Tracy and children Sean, Conor, Paige, Beau and Patrick.

– Iain Hyndman