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Sports tragic became ‘boss’ of firm at 22

13 February 2020 - By Jock Anderson

Queenstown lawyer Tom Pryde may have retired from full-time legal practice just before Christmas but the active 71-year old has no shortage of interests to keep him busy.

“I’ve got more than a full slate of stuff I will be involved in. It hasn’t really been talked through what I will do with the firm.”

That full slate includes being patron of Sport Southland, and involvement in various community projects in Central Otago and Southland including the Percy Burn Viaduct restoration, the development of the Hump Ridge walking track, Southland Locater Beacons Trust, Pisa Alpine Trust and Living Options Trust in Alexandra.

NameThomas McNeil (Tom) Pryde
Born Invercargill
Age 71
Entry to lawGraduated LLB from Otago University in 1970, and admitted in 1970.
WorkplaceConsultant at Cruickshank Pryde, Queenstown.
Speciality areaCorporate, sports, company and commercial property law.

“I am still pretty fit and healthy. I haven’t figured out precisely what the future will be but there will probably still be some connection with the firm.

Tom Pryde

“When I joined in 1970 about eight or nine people worked here. There are now 35-40 in the Invercargill office, including 10 or partners, seven people in the Gore office and six in Queenstown.”

Tom moved to Queenstown and opened the firm’s branch there in 2004.

“I never imagined myself being anything other than a lawyer. I never wavered from that and never felt I had made the wrong decision.

“When I joined the firm in 1970, Dad was 68, George Cruickshank was 61, and I was 22. The firm had two younger partners, the late Ian Hay, who became a judge, and John Lindsay, a water polo and rugby legend who played 50 games for Otago and 45 or 50 for Southland and was an All Black trialist, was giving up the law.

“When I was capped, Mum and Dad came up and took me to lunch. Dad took me aside and said we need you back at the firm.

“I was thinking of going oversees for some OE for a few years. I thought ‘why do you want me back, what’s the hurry’. He said there was ‘only us two old buggers left. We need you back here, we’re desperate’.

“It was almost impossible to recruit to Invercargill back then, so I had one week with Ian Hay when I took over all his clients.

“Dad said I was now the boss and called the shots. So I was thrown in at the deep end.”

A life devoted to sport

When he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2014 for services to sport and the community, the Southland Times acknowledged that, Tom, who is originally from Invercargill, had spent most of his life contributing to sport and the community, beginning in the early 1960s with the Oreti Surf Lifesaving Club, where he served as club captain, coach and president.

He has been involved for more than 45 years with the Old Boys' Rugby Club in Invercargill, which his father founded in 1928, serving as president of both the club and with Rugby Southland.

He has been Southland Amateur Sports Trust chairman and patron and was also a founding trustee of Sport Southland.

Since the 1980s, Tom has played a key part in establishing triathlon and multisport in New Zealand.

A life member and past president of Triathlon New Zealand, he helped secure the World Triathlon Championships for Queenstown in 2003. He founded the Motatapu Adventure Race in 2004 and was co-organiser of the event for nine years.

Tom is also a former president of the Southland District Law Society and served on the council of the New Zealand Law Society.

He lives at Lake Hayes with his wife Margo, a former school teacher, whom he married in 1972 after she finished her BA at Otago University.

After leaving Southland Boys’ High School, Tom went to Otago University where he started a commerce degree, passing economics in his first year. “Then I thought there was no real point carrying on because my father Tom was a lawyer and I guess I always knew I was going to go back and join the family law firm. I didn’t need to impress him with double degrees.

“I had an old father by most standards - Dad was born in 1902. He did his qualifications by articles, like an apprenticeship. It was between the wars and the family didn’t have enough money to send him to law school.

“He got a job in Gore, which was much bigger then, and with some major law firms. He secured a position as an articled clerk with Dollimore and Smith and worked there for five years – being admitted to the Bar in 1925.

“You didn’t need a degree in those days. A university degree was an alternative means of becoming a lawyer but when you came out as an articled clerk you were of equal status. You just didn’t have letters after the name.

Wartime pact

“Dad moved to Invercargill immediately he was admitted and hung up his shingle as a sole practitioner for the rest of the 1920s and through the 1930s, until the second world war broke out.

“George Cruickshank was also a Gore guy and he got a degree and also moved to Invercargill as a sole practitioner. They were competitors but mates, drinking mates, and would go to the pub after work.

“When war broke out they decided to go and fight for God and King. Dad volunteered as a 38-year-old to go overseas. They decided to form a partnership so if one went away and got back alive and the other didn’t he could look after business.

“Dad had two-and-a-half years in Egypt and Libya and came back in a hospital ship with a tropical illness. George spent time in Italy getting shot at. He got back and they resumed the practice as if nothing had ever happened.

“Dad became hugely involved in the RSA and was president. My Mum Chris was a qualified nurse and schoolteacher. They got married while Dad was in Burnham camp doing his training.

“My older sister was born while he was at war and he never saw her until she was nearly three. When Dad went away, Mum had no money and was pregnant. She went up to Central Otago and got a job teaching in a little town called Kokonga.

“Mum brought up her baby daughter and when Dad came back from the war they had four more children including me.”

Tom’s oldest sister Barbara, who died a couple of years ago, was a prominent physiotherapist, a president of NZ Physiotherapist Association, and on the profession’s world body. Sister Sue is a teacher living in Mapua.

“Dad’s second Christian name was Rewi, the Māori word for David. We have never been able to explain how he ended up with a Māori name and it has always been a source of great speculation in our family. Sue was passionate about proving she had some Māori blood and went back to university for three years to do Māori studies.”

Another sister, Diana, was the first New Zealand woman to get an MBA, which she achieved in the first intake at Otago University. She was practice manager for Kensington Swan, CEO of the Bankers Institute, CEO of the Society of Accountants and is director of infrastructure and development at Mary Potter Hospice, in Wellington. His sister Jan is an occupational therapist in Wellington.

Tom’s daughters, Billie and Bonnie, are well travelled.

“Billie never wanted a degree and tossed it in. She works for Radio New Zealand editing interviews for their website, which she can do from anywhere, so she travels the world like a gypsy.

“Bonnie did a law degree at Otago, lives in Canada, on an island near the border with Alaska, where she is doing a bit of law. Captain Cook went there and managed to kill everyone with smallpox. There were 35,000 natives when he went there, and they got down to 500 thanks to him. But they are up to 2,000 now.

“Bonnie practised in New Zealand for five years and was a judge’s associate for Shonagh Kenderdine, the former Environment Court judge.”

Never stopped swimming

“I am a sports tragic, I started competitive swimming when I was eight years old and never stopped swimming. I started doing Foveaux Strait swims in 1963. I got involved in water polo and surf lifesaving. I played water polo for Otago, and the university, and went to heaps of national champs.

“My father was in the Southland Boys’ High First XV in 1917 and 1918 and I was proud to be in the team in 1964 and 1965. I still have his cap. I played rugby for five years at university and made the university colts team in my first year. The Otago University rugby club was the strongest rugby club in New Zealand by far.”

One of Tom’s biggest contribution to sport was through the development of the new running, swimming and cycling sport of triathlon, invented in Hawaii in 1978.

Tom Pryde 2

“Some mates had heard about this going on in Hawaii so we went over and did it. Six weeks later we did the first Coast to Coast in 1982. I became addicted to it and did the Coast to Coast 18 times in the end. It’s a real special event.

“I then began organising triathlons at Lake Hayes and Invercargill. We were at the start of the sport in New Zealand. We started a club in Invercargill, then formed the national body in Auckland in 1985.

[Above: Tom and wife Margo on top of Roy’s Peak, Wanaka]

“In 1987 I went to Avignon in France where the International Triathlon Union, the ITU, was formed. In 1990 triathlon was a demonstration sport at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland, and in 2000 it was in the Olympics at Sydney.

“I haven’t competed for years because I organise events, including the Challenge Wanaka Trust events, which has 3,000 competitors across all events.”

Being president of Triathlon New Zealand for five years meant travelling to world championships every year, including to Hungary, the United States, Canada, France, Britain and Switzerland, as well as attending half a dozen Commonwealth Games and three Olympics.

“My father was very musical - an opera singer and pianist. He ran operas and starred in them. We had a beautiful piano at home when I was a kid, and we were all sent off to learn music as kids.

“I can’t sing for peanuts but I love all music. I came up in the Beatles era and like their music. I have had a beautiful piano from Japan for about 30 years, but don’t play in public. I play mainly classical, like Bach, and also The Beatles. I have an acoustic guitar and have tried to learn it but can’t play very well.

“I love reading but am so busy with my life I have great difficulty finding time for books. I have the Southland Times and Otago Daily Times delivered to my gate and read them from cover to cover every day.

“I read mainly biographies. A lot are on sports people. I like reading about people I know of and who have done various events, such as Kathrine Switzer, (the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, in 1967).

“She lives six months in America and six months in Wellington. She is a dear friend - we keep in touch. Murray Halberg is a mate.” Tom is a trustee of the Halberg Trust.”

Lord of the Rings

“When I was a kid Winston Churchill was my absolute hero. My parents bought me several books about his life. I was captivated by the man and he is one of my heroes.

“Margo and I love movies and we go a bit to the cinema in Arrowtown. We saw JoJo Rabbit recently and I’m a Clint Eastwood fan.

“I’ve never seen all the Lord of the Rings films, but Margo was an extra in one.”

Significant parts of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed at the Paradise property, near Glenorchy, and as chairman of the Paradise Trust, Tom sorted the various legal agreements. “I stood behind the camera watching the filming of a battle.

“We used to have a few goldfish in an outside pond. I like looking at them but the birds kept coming down and eating them, so we had to keep buying more and restocking.

“I’ve never been a car person. As soon as I drive a new car out of the showroom and get it home I have lost interest. They don’t excite me. I’ve got old cars I like driving – a 2001 Lexus, which drives beautifully – and a 2001 Land Rover Discovery, diesel, which goes real good. Margo has a black Mercedes open top convertible, which I refuse to drive or be seen in.

“I have lots of close friends and I don’t care if they are famous or infamous, they are the people I like having for dinner. That’s far more important to me than getting some famous person who doesn’t interest me. But I would have to have Churchill round - I know he was cantankerous and unusual but he might be a lot of fun.

“We would have avocado, small sweet potatoes and salmon -  Mt Cook Alpine Salmon, the best in the world. Washed down with Appleton’s Rum and coke.

“My favourite holiday spot in New Zealand would be a place on the East Coast with a beach and good surf. I am more inclined to go to Mt Maunganui. I love the Mount."

Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at jockanderson123@gmail.com

Last updated on the 13th February 2020