KiwiRail chairman Brian Corban has died.

Described as a knowledgeable leader, Corban was a professional company chairman and director, businessman and community leader.  He had been at the forefront of change in many sectors – both commercial and non-commercial – and was well known for his broad range of commercial and governance experience.

He served as chair of KiwiRail Holdings and the New Zealand Railways Corporation since July 2019, following a year as deputy chair of KiwiRail.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said he is “deeply saddened by the passing of Corban”.

“Brian was an outstanding KiwiRail chairman and was steering the company during a period of strong government support and investment in rail. He was a great New Zealander and a remarkable Rangatira.

“As KiwiRail’s Group CEO, I appreciated his personal support and admired his attention to detail, his guidance to the board and his strong family values.

“Brian leaves a remarkable legacy, having helped shaped companies and communities,” said Millar.

Minister Phil Twyford wrote on Facebook that Corban was “a great New Zealander who will be missed by many in West Auckland”.

“He had a huge heart for West Auckland, was a staunch egalitarian and backer of the Labour party and committed his life to building the institutions that could deliver progress.

“He is survived by his wife Lindsay and their 2 children and 7 grandchildren. RIP Brian,” wrote Twyford.

Grant Hope, CEO of the Melanesia Mission Trust Board, said in addition to a successful commercial career, Corban had been a passionate supporter of the charitable sector for “many, many years”.

“He was deeply committed to implementing long-term strategies for the benefit of the many communities he has served. Brian had the fierce belief that everyone should have an opportunity to succeed, be it through access to education, health or to overcome any challenge they may be facing.  He hated bureaucracy and brought his boundless energy, intelligence and a wicked sense of humour to achieve real pragmatic results. He was one-of-a-kind and will be deeply missed,” said Hope.

Hope said one trust Corban served on for many years was the Melanesian Mission Trust Board which funds the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACoM).  

“Brian became interested in Melanesia as part of his history studies at university and has been involved with the trust in various ways for 30 years.”

ACoM said Corban had a “special place” in his heart for the church.

“He was very much devoted to the wellbeing of the ACoM over the many years he served both as a member and chairman of the Melanesian Mission Trust Board. He travelled on many occasions to both Vanuatu and Solomon Islands attending meetings and special church events. His many trips to the islands helped him get a better understanding and appreciation of the needs of the church. His counsel as an advisor to the management board was invaluable.

“The ACoM will certainly miss a very close friend.”

Meanwhile, Nick Tetzner, chair of Otamatea Kauri and Pioneer Museum board, said a “truly mighty kauri has fallen”.

“As a member of the Kauri Museum Board, Mr Corban brought wisdom, vision and humour. He was a man with great knowledge which he shared freely. He will be sadly missed by everyone here at the Kauri Museum.

“Our thoughts are with the Corban family at this difficult time,” Tetzner said.

President of the Waitakere Indian Association, Sunil Kaushal, said Corban was “a big kauri of West Auckland and his loss will be felt by the community”.

“His love and passion for migrants to succeed was truly appreciated by the vast ethnic groups. He dedicated his life to help us through various contributions and we owe him and his family a debt of gratitude,” Kaushal said.

Corban had extensive experience leading Crown companies through restructuring and deregulatory changes having been chair of Genesis Energy and Radio NZ, and the founding chair of TVNZ.

His community service included chair, trustee and director roles with the Melanesian Trust Board, Auckland War Memorial Museum and Auckland City Mission, as well as being a member of the Waitangi Tribunal and a pillar of the Lebanese and West Auckland communities.

“Mr Corban selflessly devoted much of his life to serving the community and his legacy will endure. I offer my deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time,” said state-owned enterprises minister, David Clark.

“I know Brian was seen as a transformative leader within KiwiRail, well respected for his wisdom, honesty and sense of humour,” said Clark.

He was appointed a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Directors in New Zealand in 2014. He was also the chair of West Auckland Trusts Services Limited, the Melanesian Mission Trust Board and a number of private companies, including Ngatarawa Wines Limited. He was chair of the Corban Estate Arts Centre, chair of the Royal New Zealand Navy Museum, a member of the Board of the Auckland Museum and the former chair of the Graeme Dingle Endowment Foundation.

Corban became a Companion of the NZ Order of Merit in the 2009 New Year’s Honours.

At the time, he was quoted as saying it was “a surprise and a great honour” to receive the award.

“In terms of choosing things, you don't really choose things, people choose you. When they choose you, it's very hard to resist a worthy cause,'' said Corban.

He had previously been awarded the Queen's Service Order for his public service to NZ broadcasting as a former chair of TVNZ and deputy chair of the Broadcasting Corporation of NZ.