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Christopher John Devonport, 1954 - 2019

By Nick Butcher

Coroner and former Gisborne lawyer Chris Devonport died on 23 January 2019 following an accident at his family home.

Mr Devonport was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1976 following the completion of his LLB(Hons) at the University of Canterbury. He grew up in Christchurch and attended St Bede’s College.

The former law firm partner was appointed coroner for Hawke's Bay and Poverty Bay in 2007 after more than 30 years of practising law.

Mr Devonport took a different career path to his late father, Frank Devonport, who was Professor of Commerce at Canterbury University. His father was also a World War II veteran who had been seriously wounded during a battle in Florence before being sent home to New Zealand on a hospital ship.

Neil Mackie, who is a partner at Nolans Lawyers in Gisborne, went through law school at the same time as Mr Devonport and also gained an honours degree. The pair became great friends and were partners at that same law firm before Mr Devonport’s move to coronial services.

His uncle Tony Sheehan was once a partner at the Gisborne law firm, Chrisp Caley and Sheehan and that was the firm Mr Devonport joined after he finished law school. In 1979 he made partner after his uncle retired to become a judge. Chrisp Caley and Sheehan merged with Nolan and Skeet in 1998 to become Nolans.

Chris Devonport was also President of the Gisborne District Law Society from 1989 to 1990.

Mr Mackie describes Chris Devonport as a quiet and humble family man with a strong Catholic faith.

He was heavily involved in his community, including being a supporter of the local surf lifesaving club. The busy coroner also made time to be chair of a school board, held a black belt in a martial art, and was involved in the Gisborne West Rotary and the Thistle soccer club.

“He lived a very active life but family always came first with Chris,” Mr Mackie says.

As a lawyer, his specialty areas were trusts, company law and commercial and rural conveyancing.

He was good friends with the former Chief Coroner, Judge Neil MacLean, who likely inspired Mr Devonport to follow a similar career path, after practising law.

The current Chief Coroner, Judge Deborah Marshall has also paid tribute to Chris Devonport.  

“Coroner Devonport served as a coroner for the past 11 years, based in the Hawke’s Bay region. He was one of the first full-time coroners, appointed when the Coroners Act 2006 came into force in 2007. He will be remembered by his colleagues as a quiet and hardworking coroner who was dedicated to his family,” says Judge Marshall.

“He was always willing to take on extra work if asked and contributed greatly to the way in which the coronial service has developed. I extend my sympathies to Coroner Devonport's family, friends and colleagues. He will be greatly missed,” Judge Marshall says.

Neil Mackie says Chris Devonport was very giving of his time and would sometimes visit the local Gisborne hospital and other community groups to talk about what he did as a coroner, including how inquests work.

“He enjoyed his work. I doubt that he really changed gears in relation to the significant workload he previously had in the partnership. He wasn’t the sort of person to ever really turn down work. He was very much a go-to sort of person."

While Mr Devonport’s career changed direction, Neil Mackie says he still caught up with Chris Devonport regularly.

“I’m still a trustee of his trust and attended his daughter’s wedding last year. We’d play golf from time to time too. Chris was always saying that he needed more time for golf,” he says.

Trout fishing was his other more recent recreational passion.

Coroner Chris Devonport is survived by his wife Chrissie and two adult children, Sarah and Matthew.

Last updated on the 30th January 2019