Footrot Flats creator Murray Ball has died. He was aged 78.
He had been suffering from Alzheimer's and had been nursed at his Gisborne home for some time. He is survived by his wife Pam, and children, and grandchildren.
Long-time friend Norman Maclean was at Ball's bedside when he passed away.
Maclean said he was a much-loved family man, and although his death was a tremendous loss, it was also met with a sense of relief as it brought an end to his suffering.
"Everyone he met he was open to, friendly, and generous to a fault."
In an interview with Radio New Zealand in January 2016, Ball's wife Pam said her husband hadn't been well for about six years.
"He's slowly declining you know, it's one of these dementia things, we just have to make the most of Murray," she said.
"It's very sad."
The family had owned lived in the same house in Gisborne for 42 years since returning from a period living in England.
She said Gisborne was where Ball had created all of his best-loved characters, and said it was the "spiritual home" of Footrot Flats.
"Everything to do with Footrot Flats has happened right here," she told Radio New Zealand.
Gisborne mayor Meng Foon also paid tribute Ball.
"Murray was a great friend of the Gisborne community and it is a very sad loss and we all give our condolences to his family and the Footrot Flats family."
A life-size statue of Wal and Dog which were built by Weta Workshop were temporarily installed in the city in time for Ball's 77th birthday in 2016.
Foon said he was looking forward to a life-sized bronze statue of Wal and Dog finding a permanent home in the city.
The sculpture features Dog gazing up at his owner Wal with adoring eyes and lolling tongue.
Ball became an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002.
His Footrot Flats cartoons ran from 1975-1994 in newspapers around the world.
His other cartoons included Stanley the Paleolithic Hero (the longest- running cartoon in Punch magazine), Bruce the Barbarian, and All the King's Comrades.
But it was the 1986 film Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale which made him a household name.
Longtime friend and collaborator Tom Scott said Ball had given him his first break when he asked him to write the script for Footrot Flats, and the pair spent two years fine-tuning the story of Wal and Dog.
The movie was an instant classic and featured the voices of Billy T James, John Clarke, and Rawiri Paratene.
Scott, a cartoonist who was also born in Ball's hometown of Feilding, said a lot of of Ball's work was "fiercely political and fiercely egalitarian".
"Those were Murray's two passion, he was passionate about injustice."
"It's terribly sad, because he was a brilliant man.
"He was a hero of mine when I was growing up in the Manawatu. It was tremendous to think these great cartoons could be created by someone living just up the road, the didn't need to be things done overseas."
Scott also recalled watching Ball play rugby for Manawatu against the touring Lions team in 1959.
"He was a sporting hero, he was a creative hero and then when I met him he was a hero of a man."
Friend Norman Maclean also recalled Ball's passion for rugby.
As a former junior All Black the national game was very close to his heart.
"Watching a rugby game with Murray was a serious matter, there was no laughing. And he would be bellowing and shouting at the screen."
He described the occasions when they would meet friends for coffee at a cafe in Gisborne.
After a morning of their usual political and philosophical discussions they would head to the counter to pay, only to find Ball had already paid the bill.
"He just liked to look after everyone," Maclean said.
Fairness, decency and honour were values he held dear and made him "charmingly old fashioned," Maclean said.
Maclean said his friend's public legacy would be his bold creative works, along with Te Kuri, a walkway he gifted to the public.
The 5.6km loop track near Gisborne provides a home for native tui, kereru, owl, grey warbler and fantails.
Maclean said what Ball really wanted to leave behind was a more fairer and equitable society which cared deeply for the poor and dispossessed.