He was described on Saturday as a stately kauri of Te Hiku o Te Ika-a-Maui, a fine example of Kaitaia's founding European family, a man who had helped build what so many people now take for granted.
But to former Far North REAP board colleague Stephen Allen, Malcolm Matthews was simply "a rare commodity indeed".
Mr Matthews was the guest of honour a function at Te Ahu on Saturday, marking his retirement from the REAP board after 30 years, 25 of them as chairman. (Over the 30 years he attended 359 board meetings, missing just one. He could not recall why, but suspected he had been out of the country).
Members of his family joined him on Saturday to hear a series of tributes, universally praising his his extraordinary contribution to his community, particularly in (but by no means limited to) the field of education.
An historian whose knowledge of the Far North was described as encyclopedic, he was also widely recognised as an avid, skilful and generous gardener.
He learned that laying newspaper around kumara plants would stop them from running too far, that cow manure should be matured before being applied to the garden and silver beet would enjoy a little salt water out of the tuatua bucket from time to time.
"He will pass that knowledge on to his children, and so it will continue," he said.
Mayor John Carter said he was honoured to have the chance to pay tribute to someone who had given so much, a member of a family which had given much to the community from the very beginning.
"That family has given us the gentleman we have here today, and it is why he is the man he is," he said.
"The service he and his family have given this community is to be applauded, and quite frankly to be held in awe.
"We assume things are what they are now because that is just how they are, but in many cases they only happen because of people like Malcolm.
"We are so lucky to live in a country that is peaceful, safe, a place of wonderful opportunity, and much of that is because of people like Malcolm Matthews. They are the very heart of this nation. They do the groundwork that builds the foundations of the things we take for granted."
REAP board member Jay Rupapera presented Mr Matthews with a tokotoko, a 'talking stick,' made of kahikatea, the tallest tree in the forest, that told the story of a steadfast man who added substance wherever he went. It features paua and koru representing his wife Pam, his five children and 12 grandchildren.
Robin Shepherd, Far North REAP manager from 1982 to 1995, also made a link with Mr Matthews' ancestor, Rev Joseph Matthews, who founded the Kaitaia mission in 1834. He too had believed strongly in the power of education, and taught farming skills to the Maori.
"Malcolm clearly has deep affection for this part of the world; he has an understanding of the essence of the place," he said.
"He knows the sites that were important to the mission, he knows where the ducks will be nesting, he knows where to set a net in the harbour. He has a wealth of information. And if he ever had aspirations to leave the Far North I didn't hear of them."
He had been "shoulder-tapped" for the REAP board by then secretary Nan Andrews, whose husband, Kaitaia College principal Peter was the chairman.
"He could have left at any time, time, but he didn't. He's still here," Mr Shepherd added.
Kaitaia Primary School principal Brendon Morrissey said Mr Matthews' work had helped create memories for thousands and thousands of children, while Peter McNeur, from Wairarapa REAP (in Masterton) and the national board, said he epitomised the notion of service to the community.
He had given his wisdom and strength to five Far North REAP managers, "and just keeps giving to this community in all sorts of ways".
How do I thank you?
Malcolm Matthews did a lot of listening before he was allowed to speak at his farewell function on Saturday, and when the time came he was all but lost for words.
"How do I thank you all?" he asked.
"I don't know where to start."
His forebear, Rev Joseph Matthews and his fellow Kaitaia mission founder William Gilbert Puckey, had been much like REAP, he said, in that they taught "everything," just as REAP and Far North Adult Literacy did today.
Meanwhile his 30 years at REAP had been a great pleasure, "because of the people I have been able to work with. Maybe that's why I stayed for a while."