So when Rudd made his final trip to Hamilton in 2014, he was greeted by throngs of Mormon well-wishers, who addressed him variously as "Elder Rudd, President Rudd and Tumuaki, a title of honor reserved for dignitaries," according to an official report of the trip.
So how did the energetic leader become so adored by Mormon Maoris?
He learned their language, biked across entire islands, fought for their causes.
"He became one of them," said son Lee Rudd as he prepared for his dad's funeral services Wednesday.
Though Rudd served in many leadership positions, including as a Seventy (a third-tier general authority) in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he never was full of himself, the son said.
Whether that quality was an innate part of his father's personality or learned on the job, Lee Rudd said, it was on display with every assignment, including as head of the church's Welfare Square in Salt Lake City for 25 years, where he earned the title, "Mr. Welfare."
"Dad was that way with everyone," the son said. "He was not flamboyant about it. He was down to earth and just helped anyone in need."
But it was his bond to New Zealand Mormons that may be his more lasting legacy.
The LDS leader "has the respect and aroha [love] from all in New Zealand," Bob Hamon of Hamilton wrote in an email.
During his mission as a young man, Rudd met Hamon's father, Ralph Hamon, who would have been about 10 years old at the time. More than five decades later, the LDS leader called Ralph Hamon to be president of the Temple View Stake (a regional group of Mormon congregations) in Hamilton.
"Theirs was a lifelong friendship," Bob Hamon said.
Rudd spoke fluent Maori, the New Zealand member wrote, "and was as comfortable speaking on a Maori marae [sacred meeting place] as he was in a chapel or in the tabernacle."
Hamon has seen Rudd "get together with his old missionary buddies in Salt Lake City and naturally start speaking Maori, laughing and joking together, almost as though a switch was flicked in their personalities and they became the young missionaries that had served together so long ago."
Indeed, the connection ran so deep that during that final trip, in 2014, the report said, Rudd told the assembled crowd "in the next life he would be spending his time amongst his beloved Maori people."