Denis Wilmott Hansen knew how to command attention in life and in death.
The well-respected kaumatua brought traffic to a halt when he suffered a heart attack in his car on the Lincoln Rd off-ramp on Wednesday afternoon.
Friend and broadcaster Willie Jackson says the commotion would have brought a smile to his face.
Mr Jackson says the cheeky former Maori All Black worked tirelessly for the community.
"This was a man who cut across cultures - though for Maori he was always a torch bearer of the tikanga."
Mr Hansen was kaumatua for the Waitemata and Auckland district health boards for many years.
"Every morning around 5am Denis would arrive at the offices and start from the top floor, blessing everything as he made his way down to the ground floor. That's a lot of blessings for one guy," Mr Jackson says.
"Denis was also one of our favourite announcers on Radio Waatea."
Mr Hansen, born May 7, 1933, was a prominent figure for the Waipareira Trust.
He received a Queen's Service Medal for more than 30 years service to Maori and the community in 2010.
He was a foundation member of several marae and was involved with the Ngapuhi Advisory Board and the Waipareira Trust which he founded.
He held a number of positions at the Department of Maori Affairs and was involved in penal reform, victim support policy and restorative justice and rehabilitation projects.
He worked to eliminate youth gang violence from inner Auckland and facilitated mediation between gangs.
Thousands of people descended on Auckland's Civic Theatre to celebrate his 80th birthday in June.
Cousin Gillian Houghton says seeing 2500 people there to celebrate with him was overwhelming.
"All I can remember was the sea of people.
"He worked to help everyone, no matter where they were from."
Mrs Houghton says travelling with Mr Hansen was always an adventure.
"You never knew if the person you were going to shake hands with was a triple murderer or the prime minister.
"I remember at a graduation ceremony at the marae he was asked by the Ministry of Education if he had any figures on Maori achievement. Denis said ‘no, people are not numbers.'
"At his birthday a man stood up in the crowd and said before Denis was in his life he was a statistic and now he felt like a person. Then another 30 people stood up and said the same thing."
Mrs Houghton says he was a generous man who would enter a house and make it brighter by his presence.
"When I was young my mother got sick. At Christmas I only had a pot of mince for us to eat.
"Denis arrived and told us to come back to his house. His family let us have Christmas dinner with them.
"That was the type of guy he was. He would give away what he had to anyone worse off than him."
Waipareira Trust chief executive John Tamihere says Mr Hansen was a legend.
"He was a rogue. He migrated from Northland to work in the city doing unskilled labour and turned that into a life of helping everyone he met.
"He was one of the first to get repatriation from league back to rugby union," Mr Tamihere says.
"At the time that would have been like converting from Islam to Christianity in Saudi Arabia."
A service will be held at Hoani Waititi Marae.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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