Sister Paula Brettkelly, a nun of the Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth, volunteered through the New Zealand Aids Foundation for more than 19 years. She also volunteered tirelessly for the Human Rights Commission and for understanding of Treaty of Waitangi issues.
She died in Wanganui yesterday, aged 64, after 12 years of suffering from breast and bone cancer. She was surrounded by fellow sisters and close family members.
Sister Maree Hickey first met Sister Paula in 1963. She cared for her at Sister Paula's Pukerua Bay home and was at her bedside yesterday morning. She said her friend was conscious till the end.
"This has been no easy journey for her [but] she knew that she had done what she could do ... She waited with great faith and strength to the end."
Last year Sister Paula was awarded a Queen's Service Medal for advocating for the rights of HIV-positive people.
NZAF executive director Rachael Le Mesurier said Sister Paula fought discrimination and stigma faced by those with HIV and Aids. "She was the one who stood right beside them and held their hands. A truly remarkable New Zealander. She worked with extraordinary humility."
She advocated for the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform Act and 1993 Human Rights Act and fulfilled many NZAF roles including board member, educator, public speaker, trainer and mediator.
She was awarded NZAF Life Membership in 2005.
She campaigned for "how the Treaty could be a uniting force in New Zealand," Ms Le Mesurier said.
Chief Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said her friend of many years had campaigned for discrimination against sexual orientation to be included in the 1993 Human Rights Act.
She had been instrumental in a stocktake of the act in 2004 - consulting the public about what was working and what needed attention.
She showed great warmth, courage and wisdom throughout long years of illness, Ms Noonan said.
"I would put her down as one of New Zealand's great human rights campaigners.
One of her great achievements was with Te Mana i Waitangi which was formed to facilitate discussion about Treaty issues.