But throughout his political career he was polarising. Some saw the best of Labour and New Zealand in him, while others saw a party and a country they needed to change.
Most people project themselves onto the politicians they like. They see the best of themselves in their representatives and Moore was that to many voters. That’s why he was popular. He represented what it was to be a Kiwi battler.
But, for some, Mike also represented the worst of New Zealand — uncouth, uneducated, unrefined and plenty of other ‘uns’.
Mike was never part of the chattering classes. He didn’t go to art gallery openings or host fancy dinner parties. His idea of a party involved alcohol, charred protein and hopefully someone with a guitar. He thought tomato sauce was the perfect accompaniment to most meals.
I’m not sure whether he went out of his way to thumb his nose at them, but they certainly knew he didn’t like - no, rate - them.
While he easily mixed with kings, queens, presidents and captains of industry, I sensed that deep down he felt awkward and shy, and was far more comfortable in the Returned and Services Association pun smoking Peter Stuyvesant Red and drinking jugs of Canterbury Draught with Kiwis who used their hands rather than their minds to make a living.
Mike certainly showed up and embarrassed some in Labour. It wasn’t so much his down-to-earth tastes and habits but the fact that he was more Labour than them. He was one of the people the middle-class members of the party were supposedly trying to save and they hated the idea that one of those people was telling them they weren’t good enough to do that.
Mike saw them as part of the privilege he’d spent his life trying to smash. He saw them as no different from the ‘white coats’ at the Moerewa freezing works, surrounding themselves with the spoils while pretending to care about others.
Maybe that’s why some people forgot his many achievements. And maybe that’s why some were quick to label him as the man who came up with the lamb burger idea, as though that was his greatest contribution.
Mike was part of the ‘fish-and-chip brigade’ that helped give New Zealand the remarkable David Lange whose government forever transformed the country.
He helped grow the New Zealand economy by opening up international markets for the country’s talented producers and innovators.
He helped repair the relationship with the US after the ANZUS split and, in so doing, helped create anti-nuclear consensus among New Zealand’s political parties.
He helped put an end to the runaway free-market approach to economic management of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson, without going back to centralised planning of the economy.
And his greatest achievement saw China join a rules-based global trading system where the law took precedence, for the first time, over the Chinese Communist Party and, in turn, saw millions taken out of poverty - something Beazley described at the funeral as a significant event in world history.
But his story was part of something broader than that.
Moore and those who were key players throughout his political life - the likes of Jim Anderton, Michael Bassett, David Caygill, Helen Clark, Michael Cullen, Roger Douglas, David Lange, Geoffrey Palmer and the many more of that generation - came into politics at a key juncture in the history of the New Zealand Labour Party and international progressive politics.
In their time the New Zealand Labour Party became an awkward coalition of trade unionists, blue-collar workers, academics, middle-class liberals, interest groups and professionals. It had been fragile for some time because the commonality of interests wasn’t always aligned.
Left-wing politics was at a fork in the road for that generation. And it wasn’t so much the debate about open versus closed economies. It was about who would rule and impose their values on these parties, what some now describe as the culture wars.
Was it a party that would continue to represent the mostly socially conservative aspirations of working-class people or the combined variety of interests of the middle classes?
I believe Mike and his colleagues fundamentally got caught up in that battle, one that he was always going to lose given how Labour and progressive parties were moving from their bases. Education, globalisation and technology changes were shrinking the manual working class, their core support.
Interestingly, Mike wasn’t bitter about this. He was glad Labour policies enabled the children of the working classes to go to university and get professional jobs, and be socially mobile. He saw that as a measure of Labour’s success.
But he was equally sad that many of the remaining working class also left Labour and became the swing voters that populists and nationalists are now targeting with their bigoted and isolationist rhetoric.
In an earlier era, Mike would have been the perfect Labour politician — a red meat-eating, jug-drinking and ‘packet-a-day’ man. But he became caught in this transition going on in the party. Many of the new members in Labour came from National Party-voting families. He couldn’t be any more different from them and so his and their starting positions couldn’t be any more divergent.
That’s why he variously felt ‘his’ party was leaving - or was being taken away from - him.
The irony was that he was probably better-read than many of those who had been to university and he had no reason to feel inferior. His huge appetite for books meant he continued to learn, which was in contrast to some of his colleagues who had come to their conclusions about life upon graduation.
There were constant disconnects between Mike and some of the new people in Labour. Lifting import restrictions on second-hand cars, for example, meant working families could for the first time afford a decent car. He instantly got that. But to these new people in the party it meant more pollution and a lack of focus on public transport.
Each just couldn’t - or didn’t want to - see the other’s point of view.
A number of former colleagues talked about his many funny, often self-deprecating, quips: “A lawn-mowing democracy”, “I’m going to do something completely unheard of in the Labour Party - I’m going to praise someone behind their back”, and “The public are starting to wave at us with five fingers instead of two”. There are even lists of them in circulation.
Some of his colleagues used to laugh at him rather than with him when hearing the quips. But throughout his career Mike was able to get to the nub of an issue and communicate its essence, often with humour, so that ordinary New Zealanders could understand. Surprisingly, that’s a rare skill for politicians.
One of the constant themes in our conversations was Mike’s impatience to get things done, to make change. His three bouts of cancer clearly informed this view. This made him confronting and, at times, come across as brash and arrogant.
But there was something else, I noticed. He loved the workload. It was never a burden or an obligation.
The more he had to do - the busier he was and the higher the stakes - the more he seemed to see and understand. It was as though the screen widened for him and he saw something more than others did. Many former colleagues talked about this insightfulness. He enjoyed this clarity, the sense of purpose behind what he was doing, and it gave him personal fulfilment and happiness.
The downside of that was that politics became addictive and any slowing created a narrowing blurriness and banality he wanted to avoid in his life. The pace and adrenalin was his drug. The smaller and insignificant matters - like polite small talk with small-minded or ignorant colleagues - bored and annoyed him.
Mike joined Labour to be part of a movement of change. Some of the others joined it, he told me, for their own personal advancement and social status. They thought they were saving the party from itself and they were doing it a favour and that’s why their loyalty was fleeting. He always thought he was lucky Labour would have him.
Even in its darkest hours he was never embarrassed about being Labour and for those who deserted it for NewLabour and then the Alliance he reserved the working class’s greatest insult - scab.
The constant theme that came through in our conversations was that Mike always seemed insecure and, because of that, deep down - in the place where all politicians have to visit at some stage - he actually lacked confidence. He was never sure if he was quite good enough.
That’s why he was first in the office in the mornings and last to leave at night. Hard work, he figured, would overcome any of his shortcomings.
If he’d managed to conquer that insecurity, who knows what giddier heights his remarkable life might have reached?
For a man as well travelled and experienced as Mike, it became clear to me he only ever really loved two places - Parliament’s debating chamber, where his background wasn’t judged, only his contribution when he took a call, and where he grew up in the Far North, where his soul was always replenished by its down-to-earth residents. In these two homes of his, he was everyone’s equal.
Many people at home and abroad talk affectionately about Mike. He judged people simply and, despite his tribalism, not by their political affiliation. As with many New Zealanders, it was whether the person was ‘a good sort’ - friendly, interesting, enjoyed a laugh and, importantly, was loyal.
Politics for Mike was often intertwined with friendships, sometimes with people from the other side of the House.
But for much of his life he was a loner and introspective, he admitted once to me. He had the ability to withdraw himself, to hunker down, and not bother with the networking and small talk at which some politicians excel. That may have cost him at key moments in his political career.
The most influential people in his life, the ones he could be honest with, were few - his boyhood friends Bryan Gregory and Terry Bayley, his Eden campaign gang Warren Goff and Mike Rann, his mentors Matiu Rata and Joe Walding, his Socialist Youth International roommate Loo Chong Yong, the preacher who helped him close death’s door Bill Subritzky, his numbers man Bill Jeffries, his Aussie mate Kim Beazley, and his protégé - some say son he never had - Clayton Cosgrove.
Then there was mother, Audrey Goodall Moore Webber. Mike just wanted to hear and see love from her.
But the most important was Yvonne Dereany, the trainee school teacher from Blockhouse Bay - the person who pushed him forward when he was shy, scared or unsure, hugged him when he lost, made the sandwiches for Labour housie evenings, held up his election hoardings as he hammered them in, absorbed all the personal abuse at candidates meetings, held his vomit bag when he had cancer, consoled him when his mother died, wanted to have his children, shook the hands and smiled politely, held his grudges and in his final years bathed, cleaned and tucked him in at night.
It was not the life she probably envisioned when they met almost 50 years ago, but it was one devoid of the exaggeration, outrage and false modesty of politics. It was authentic and real.