Tributes flow for popular Sir Don Beaven

Little Akaloa residents battled for more than half an hour to save Sir Don Beaven while Akaroa firefighters sped over the hill.

Medical and community leaders yesterday paid tribute to the world authority on diabetes who died in a fire at his Banks Peninsula bach on Wednesday.

Yesterday, Coroner Sue Johnson confirmed Beaven was the person found dead in the house.

Provisional findings indicate he died of smoke inhalation, Johnson said.

The Fire Service is investigating the cause of the fire.

Family members asked for privacy yesterday.

Beaven, 85, was alone at his Lukes Rd holiday home in Little Akaloa when residents noticed smoke and went to investigate.

Neighbour Grant Waghorn was one of the first on the scene. He and about 15 other residents rushed to the medical professor's aid and used the community fire-pump wagon to fight the blaze.

Builders working on Waghorn's new home downed tools and rushed to help, as did a Fulton Hogan crew working on the road into the settlement.

Wives searched neighbouring properties for Beaven and made cups of tea and lunch for the firefighters.

Waghorn said Beaven's death had affected the whole community in Little Akaloa, where he was a well-known figure.

Beaven and Waghorn jointly owned olive trees across from the Beaven house, which the professor used as his "sanctuary", Waghorn said.

Even at 85, Beaven was still walking up the hill to the grove and pruning the trees.

"He was a very cheery sort of guy – bubbly," Waghorn said. "He always made people welcome, and his knowledge was pretty awesome."

Associate Minister of Health Tariana Turia was among the first to pay tribute to Beaven yesterday.

"Sir Don has been the paramount authority on diabetes in New Zealand. I met with him just two days ago in his capacity as co-patron of Diabetes New Zealand," she said. "His enormous enthusiasm was evident to us all. He had a fierce passion for making a difference for the lives of people with diabetes."

Labour health spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said it was "a privilege to have known such a talented New Zealander who was dedicated to improving the health of Kiwis".

The Dean of Otago University's Christchurch School of Medicine, Professor Peter Joyce, said Beaven's energy and enthusiasm were the qualities he would be remembered for.

Beaven was appointed by Otago University in 1960 as a tutor and researcher at Princess Margaret Hospital. He was the first professor of medicine when the medical school was established in 1972.

Since retirement 20 years ago, Beaven had been "larger than life", Joyce said.

Beaven created the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation 49 years ago. Foundation director Guy Johnson said Beaven was successful in convincing lay people of the importance of funding medical research, and more than $18 million had been donated.

Long-time colleague Professor Robin Fraser said Beaven left a huge legacy in the medical profession. His diabetes research led to a strong tradition of excellence in the teaching and study of hormones in Christchurch.

Medical Staff Association chairwoman Ruth Spearing said Beaven inspired people to be leaders.

Mike Crean's obituary for Beaven will be in tomorrow's Mainlander

The Press