Helen Kelly's friends, family, and comrades farewelled the former Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president at an emotional service in Wellington on Friday.
Ms Kelly passed away over a fortnight ago after a long battle with lung cancer, aged 52.
CTU President Richard Wagstaff said Ms Kelly made people feel special and had an infectious optimism. He described a "huge sadness at the loss of someone who was too young to die and had so much more to give, who would have made all of our lives much better if she was still here."
"We will continue the fight even though in your death, one of our brightest has fallen," Mr Wagstaff said.
Ms Kelly's partner Steve Hurring quoted the words of her cousin Bill Rosenberg who said "Without [her parents] Kath and Pat, Helen would assuredly not have been the wonderful, intelligent, charming, determined, socially and politically active and vital person she was ".
"It is with such sadness that we have to say goodbye, but her spirit lives on in all of us and certainly in my heart" Mr Hurring said. His speech was followed by Ms Kelly's son, Dylan, who played a song for her.
International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary Sharan Burrow said Ms Kelly is "Much loved, universally respected, a warrior for working people and justice everywhere, but equally as you all know, a friend, mentor, absolute partner in crime, civil disobedience, fun, irreverence and frivolity".
"The loss of you is too painful to convey but your legacy shines bright as a beacon for unfinished business…none of us will let you down," Ms Burrow said.
Actress Robyn Malcolm quoted Ms Kelly when she said: "New Zealand working people more than ever need the institutional strength they build through unions ... to give them a say in society and to win justice and fairness for them and their families. We have the ability to fight back, we have shown we can, and we must be sophisticated and disciplined about doing that."
"There you are, we've been told. God bless you mate," Ms Malcolm said.
Labour MP Trevor Mallard read a message from former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who said she was one of "thousands of people who admired all that Helen stood for and the courage and the passion with which she pursued the causes she took on".
Mr Mallard said before the ceremony he'd spoken to a cemetery worker who "summed it up" by saying Ms Kelly "cut through the bullshit and she spoke common sense".
"Helen, mate, you've made a hell of a difference on behalf of us all, farewell," Mr Mallard said.
The memorial service also included musical performances from Don McGlashan, who sang Anchor Me, and a choir who sang Bread and Roses.