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Stratford had a colourful career, writing 19 books and taking a deputy-editor role at Metro (1986-1993), then editor or publisher roles at Quote Unquote (1993-1997) and Architecture New Zealand (1998-2001).
He was a man of many talents, known also as a manuscript editor, senior journalist and publisher.
Throughout his career, he edited for renowned New Zealand authors Dr Ranginui Walker, Vincent O'Sullivan and Brian Turner, among others.
Stratford was a founding trustee and board member of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, a committee member of the Frank Sargeson Trust and a founding member of the NZ Association of Manuscript Assessors.
He was also a judge of the New Zealand book awards five times and vice-president of the New Zealand Society of Authors.
Colleagues, friends and family have been writing tributes online.
Stacy Gregg, a popular New Zealand children's writer, talked of Stephen Stratford being the first editor to commission her on social media.
"I know that so many New Zealand writers across all disciplines from magazine to literature will be mourning the amazing Stephen Stratford today.
"For me, he was the very first editor who ever commissioned me to write when he was the deputy at Metro Magazine, a fact he liked to remind his daughters of several decades later when he would pop up out of the blue with them in a signing queue in at my yearly book launches in Hamilton and Te Awamutu ... Soft-spoken, gentle, clever, funny, devoted to his family, a really good editor and all-round super bloke. I am so very sad to lose him. Arohanui to the family," she said.
Dr Sarah Stanley wrote that he "played a significant role in works by some of New Zealand's most important authors," and "in a sector marked by rivalries he distinguished himself by his willingness to help others."
Fellow author and close friend Graeme Lay has known Stratford since the 1990, with Stratford editing six of his books.
"Behind every successful writer is a skilled editor, yet the work of editors is rarely given the recognition it deserves. Stephen Stratford was one of New Zealand's finest," he said.
Natonal Party leader Judith Collins paid tribute on Twitter after Stratford helped edit her biography.
"Very sad news from my publisher Allen and Unwin New Zealand that Stephen Stratford has passed away. Stephen did a wonderful job of editing my book, Pull No Punches and was lovely to work with. Aroha to Stephen's family and friends."
Stratford is survived by two daughters and wife, Sarah.