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Annesley Brian Harman MNZM, 1932 - 2010

This is the eulogy delivered by Gerald Lascelles at the funeral of Brian Harman who died on 17 April 2010.

Brian Harman was given to providing surprises – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

This was because there was, with him, a certain eccentricity of character. Anyone who can sit at a dinner party with a live bantam on his head could, at the very best, be deemed unusual. And then there was his passion for old Morris 8 cars which extended to model trains, the latter so set out in the house that one had to creep under a complex rail system to enter the room which housed it. I don’t know how the family tolerated these pursuits, but I suppose they were part of the deal.

And he has sprung a surprise now – not by dying which, if unexpected, was not altogether a surprise but by having his funeral service here in this lovely church. I have always had a soft spot for St Mary’s since my parents married here and here I was christened and then, recently, it enjoyed the guidance of that wonderful vicar and minister, Craufurd, from whom you have already heard and whom to follow, in speaking at a service such as this is the most unenviable of tasks.

But Brian’s funeral service is held here not because of any particular aesthetic pleasure this church may have given him but because, after a lifetime of service at St Barnabas, ecclesiastical changes, with which he could not and would not agree, were proposed and his distaste was registered by his transferring his loyalty and devotions here. If Brian believed something, he acted upon it.

He was indeed very active in church affairs and with the Christchurch Diocesan Synod as you have heard and was unafraid to make a stand on issues which might prove controversial.

Some of us were wont to chivvy him for his role as a catalyst in the ordination of women clergy here and we told him that he would, on this issue, have much to answer for to his Maker on the Day of Reckoning – although I fear his Maker may find members of another denomination occupying a greater proportion of His time right now.

But the principle of the thing was always important and he was ever prepared to stand by it. Principles meant something to him, as they did to the entire Harman family.

I did not want to tell this story because I think you will have heard it, and more than once. It is old hat now but I have been pressured by one whose importuning could not be resisted and it does encapsulate much of what is recognised in the Harmans.

The scene is the Hereford/Colombo Street intersection on the south-west corner of which, awaiting a change of lights, stand Peter Mahon and Brian McClelland. The Harman men, Mr Harman senior, Brian, Colin and Peter would drive to lunch in the family Chev which was one of those ‘40s or ‘50s models with high winders, such as we see in movies used by the FBI.

And people all wore hats in those days so as the car passed with only the hatted heads of the Harmans visible to passers-by, two in front and two in the rear, Peter said to Brian (or did Brian say to Peter?) “There they go, the Untouchables.”

I don’t believe anyone ever had occasion to question the integrity of any member of this family in the practice of law or in their lives. This was an old Christchurch family and they were the girders on which the present firm of Harmans was built. Men of character – and all gentlemen.

The Chinese, I read, counted four essential virtues – intelligence, loyalty, kindness and bravery. Brian had them all. He was a top scholar at Christ’s College, learned in both Latin and Greek and I have vivid memories of sitting on a sun-drenched balcony when given free periods by an austere, and, to us, indulgent headmaster grappling with Xenophon and the problems of our world much to the annoyance of my housemaster about who Brian could pass some of the few scathing remarks I ever heard him utter about anyone.

He was a Gold Medallist of the Law Society in 1956 and a champion Canterbury debater and the kindest of persons, never afraid to stick his neck out for someone or something in which he believed. And he was also a contributor both to society in general and to those who might be less fortunate than himself.

He served for many years on the Riccarton Borough Council and was chairman of the Templeton Parents Association. He received the MNZM for some of his efforts. He was an exemplary lawyer. I don’t think there was ever a complaint to the Law Society about him nor, with him, was there any need for assurances or undertakings in writing. His word was his bond.

All this activity was time-consuming and took its toll, but always his obligations were discharged with tolerance, compassion and good humour. These would rise to the surface also on social occasions.

For some reason he was often mistaken for Sir Edmund Hillary and once, in a pub, a chap came up to him and wanted to shake his hand, enquiring “Sir Edmund, are you still doing much climbing?” “Only social,” responded Brian.

I never recall him bad tempered, never recall him swearing or speaking seriously ill of any who might well have merited censure.

Chateaubriand once wrote that one should be sparing with one’s contempt because of the large number of those in need of it. I think contempt was an attitude Brian knew nothing about.

Professional standards amongst lawyers today are different from those which prevailed when Brian embarked on the law. As Cecil de Mille said once of Hollywood: “It’s no longer heart; it’s box office” and that change – deterioration or rot I would call it – now has a disregard if not lack of sympathy for the qualities for which Brian and his family have stood – loyalty, gratitude, graciousness. These you won’t find count for much in the profession today.

At times Brian might have appeared insensitive and his humour misplaced or inappropriate. On occasions it was, but this resulted perhaps from thoughtlessness, not ill will and these things are but trifles in the great scheme of things. The qualities which really count he had in abundance and the blessings of a devoted wife and family.

I will miss the old boy and his essential good nature and the phone calls which came in without fail every birthday. And his faith was ever present and, I hope, sustaining his family now.

Whenever I attended a funeral with my father, as we drove away he would invariably say: “Well, he knows the answer now.” Brian never had any doubts about that.

This obituary was first published in Canterbury Tales, May 2010, page 1.

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Last updated on the 12th December 2018