Even as a young man, with children to look after and a career to further, Noel Howard made his elders a priority.
With other community leaders, he realised a void in aged care accommodation was forcing frail and elderly people into services out of the area, sometimes away from their families.
In 1969 he quit his job to become the first employee of the Illawarra Retirement Trust, putting his family's income on hold for six months while the trust got going.
Cheryl Lappin, one of Mr Howard's two daughters, said his efforts were borne out of respect.
"He felt that our older people ... deserved all the dignity, respect and help that they could get," she said.
"He truly appreciated their contribution to our world and he knew every single one of them had a special story."
Mr Howard, a former city alderman and executive director of the trust (now IRT) until his retirement in 1997, died on Sunday, aged 77.
He leaves behind a proud legacy, including the Wollongong self-care retirement village Howard Court, named in his honour.
The trust was instigated by Bulli Hospital medical officer Dr Max Diment, who asked Mr Howard to be its first employee.
It began with a fund-raiser at the Towradgi Park Bowling Club, netting $48, but was worth $160 million, with 27 sites from the southern Sydney suburb of Peakhurst down to Narooma - by the time Mr Howard retired.
He helped to build the IRT by persistently lobbying politicians and pulling together a community of supporters.
He had an authoritative presence and could easily deliver a speech without notes.
"Dad had a way of selling the need, and making people feel good about doing it," Mrs Lappin said.
"Drive and passion - he had bucket loads of it."
A miner's son, Mr Howard was born in Woonona on December 23, 1935 and remained close to his older brother John until John's death in December.
Bronwyn Howard believes her husband's tight-knit, charitable family gave him an early and lasting sense of empathy for others.
"It was his aim in life to help people," she said.
"He worked very hard all his life and I saw the pleasure he got out of it."
Mr Howard served 14 years as an independent alderman on Wollongong City Council and spent 27 years leading the trust.
In 1997, aged 62, he took his own advice about not leaving things too late, and moved with Mrs Howard into one of IRT's harbourside units at Kiama.
The slower pace was a challenge; he lost some of his spark in retirement.
But he enjoyed his five grandchildren and seemed to pick up some of what he missed doing with his own children, when work had made him absent.
Mrs Lappin said she never begrudged her father's busy work schedule.
"He gave me more nannas and pops and aunties and uncles than I could ever hope for. It was like one big family."
Relatives and friends will farewell Mr Howard at a funeral service at Parson's Funeral Home in Wollongong on Friday at 1pm.