New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has announced its former chairman John Wilson has passed away after a hard-fought battle with illness.

In July last year, Wilson announced his intention to step down from the role of chairman to focus on his health. He then retired from the cooperative’s board at its annual meeting in November.

In a note to Fonterra’s farmer-owners, Fonterra chairman John Monaghan said his predecessor was “a man whose dedication and commitment to the cooperative ran deep”.

“We owe John and his family a debt of gratitude for all the time, energy and sheer hard graft he gave us as a farmer-owner, inaugural chairman of the Fonterra Shareholder’s Council on merger, as a farmer-elected director from 2003, and as our chairman from 2012.

“John always brought dedication, commitment, and deep dairy knowledge to each of the representation and governance roles in which he served. On behalf of his fellow farmers he was the ultimate advocate for what we stand for.

“We have lost a friend, colleague, leader and champion for our industry much too soon. Our thoughts and deep gratitude for all that he contributed go to his family and friends.”