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Frank George Opie, 1903 - 1990

By Chris Walshaw

This tribute to the late FG Opie by Manawatu District Law Society President Chris Walshaw was presented at a special sitting of the High Court in Palmerston North on 14 March 1991, presided over by the Hon Mr Justice McGechan.

May it please Your Honour. This is a special sitting of the High Court in order to mark the contribution made by the late Frank Opie to the Manawatu Bar and as an officer of this honourable court, I thank your Honour for extending this privilege to Mr Opie.

Master Williams regrets that he cannot be here, particularly as he was a longstanding friend and colleague of Mr Opie.

Mr Opie was brought up in Palmerston North and lived here all of his 87 years. Mr Opie is one of those few practitioners who can claim to be part of the history of Palmerston North. His father was the headmaster of what was then the Technical Institute, now Queen Elizabeth College.

He was a nephew of the late Mr Jimmy Innes, the founder of the firm now known as Innes Dean. In 1922 Mr Opie commenced his career as a law clerk in the firm then, and for many years thereafter, known as Innes and Oakley.

The Manawatu District Law Society is indebted to Mr Opie for the reminiscences he prepared of his long career in law in the Manawatu. Much of the content is more suitable for a Bar dinner. They include the programme for the third annual dinner of the Palmerston North law clerks' association held on 22 December 1926. The Chairman was Mr Opie and the toastlist required a contribution from all the law clerks who then included such names as Ongley, Jacobs and Rogers.

Like Mr Innes, Mr Opie had an independent streak. Perhaps it was for this reason that he left his uncle's firm and joined Mr Sinclair in the firm Sinclair & Opie in 1932. When Mr Sinclair was appointed to Auckland as a magistrate, Mr Opie continued as a sole practitioner until 1972 when he was joined by Mr Doug Dron.

Up until 1972, Mr Opie conducted a general practice including appearances in court in a great variety of cases, often acting for the underdog. His practice was in both the High Court and what was then the Magistrate's Court. He remained active in practice until a few years before his death on 22 December 1990.

Mr Opie's contributions to the city are well known. He was a long serving Palmerston North city councillor and for a period, deputy mayor. He was involved in a very large number of community organisations, in particular the Samaritans.

He also played his full part in Law Society affairs, initially for the Palmerston North District Law Society. He was actively involved in the formation of the independent Manawatu District Law Society in 1962 and was on the first council, becoming president in 1967.

The rather severe photograph which appears in the Law Library belies a very warm personality. He was a competent practitioner who could always be relied on. He had the utmost respect of all members of the profession and he was one of those few persons against whom criticism was never made.

Mr Opie was an after dinner speaker of some note and rivalled the late Mr Burt Jacobs for legal wit. Amongst his papers he kept with price the speech he made at the Bar dinner in 1975.

There was always something of a radical streak in Mr Opie. He would feel compelled to support the minority viewpoint. Whilst he had the greatest of respect for this court and the administration of justice, he was never prepared to assume that all was well. In his reminiscences he emphasises this with a quote from AP Herbert's book Uncommon Law: "the Courts are the great bulwark against tyranny and tyranny need not always take the shape of a king, a dictator, a general or a nobleman, it may easily be disguised as a democratic assembly."

A picture of Mr Opie would not be complete without referring to him as one of the last walkers. As far as Mr Opie was concerned, the acquisition of material goods was of limited importance. Like the late Alistair Caskie and the present Mr Florentine, Mr Opie would invariably walk to work, returning home each day for lunch.

This tribute would not be complete without mention of Mrs Peg Opie, who is able to be with us today. She has provided a great deal of help for Mr Opie in his very wide activities. She has made her own contribution to the affairs of the Society and I think her for this.

I think I should also mention Mr Doug Dron. At Mr Opie's funeral, Doug gave a very moving account of his partner. It was obviously a marvellous partnership formed entirely on trust and without any antagonisms.

It is with regret that we recognise that Mr Frank Opie is no longer with us. We have lost a practitioner of the highest quality. A first class man who, whilst able to conduct his clients' affairs with loyalty, never forgot the ethics of the profession and could always be relied on; together with a genuine sens of fellowship for others and that individual and playful personality which will be well remembered.

I am sure that Frank Opie was proud of his achievements, both in the community and in the law, and it has been my pleasure to summarise them for Your Honour today.

This tribute was first published on page 9 of the May 1991 issue of Council Brief, the monthly newsletter of the Wellington District Law Society.

Last updated on the 20th December 2018