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Bruce Leslie Stanley, 1929 - 2019

By Gerald Lascelles

This eulogy was delivered at Bruce Stanley’s funeral at St Augustine's Anglican Church, Cashmere, Christchurch on 14 June 2019.

Bruce died at twenty-five past three on Saturday afternoon, June 8th. He would have been 90 on the twenty-fifth of this month.

If you listen - carefully, very carefully - you would hear Bruce saying to us here, what he said to many legal colleagues and clients upset by worries, an unhappy verdict or an unexpected turn of events: "Now, just settle down, pull yourselves together and cheer up."

His was a very cheery personality and he was the warmest, the most loyal and considerate of friends who were working regularly in often emotionally taxing situations. "The problems of others are very easy to bear," wrote the witty La Rochefoucauld but whenever the problems of friends or clients were involved, Bruce would not have agreed. He never took his duties of care, his responsibilities or human concerns at all lightly.

He was not ambitious - or should I say he was ambitious for family, friends and his fellow man and concerned that all did well. What he did not have was naked ambition - that ambition concerned chiefly for personal, social or financial advancement. That, to him, was, as it was to Shakespeare, distasteful and occupied no part in his make-up.

I hope you will not think it egotistic of me if some more personal recollections intrude here, but they have a link with Bruce and with an association which lasted for over 60 years. Returning home one evening when a youngster, I found my father chatting with a drink by the fire with an old friend Arthur Sims (you could chat with a drink by a fire in those days). Arthur, or should I say Sir Arthur, developed the frozen meat industry in New Zealand and said to my father: "Ross, had I ever learned to milk a cow, I'd still be a farmer in Taranaki." Strengthened by that, to me, profound observation and now conscious that knowing too much might not be an advantage, I embarked on a legal career working initially in the old firm of Wilding Perry and Acland.

Its sunny offices were on the top floor of a building on the corner of Hereford Street and Oxford Terrace and commanded a splendid view of the river and the bank's activities. As one entered, the first room one saw was occupied by Mr Perry, subsequently Mr Justice Perry and amongst his other claims to any fame, he presided over the second trial of Arthur Alan Thomas.

Cliff, if I may with some presumption so call him, was short, energetic, able and somewhat remote. His energies and shortness of manner were controlled by Billie, his patient and highly efficient office administrator who soothed us all at times of stress and who, of course, as you know, married Bruce. They were a splendid couple blessed with an affectionate and caring family from which they derived great joy.

Next to him was Dick Bowron, calm, gentle, considerate and wise. He, in addition to his professional duties, lectured in law at the University and, subsequently, became its Chancellor. Next along was a room I seldom entered. It was occupied by the senior partner, Mr Frank Wilding. It was a warm, comfortable room and, at a cluttered desk Mr Wilding sat in a leather chair and, if one were to enter on receiving no response to a knock, one might find Mr Wilding snoozing the day away stretched out on a large leather couch. Lawyers could do that sort of thing in those days. Mr Wilding was the quintessential gentleman and it seemed to me then and, indeed now, that he had his priorities right.

At the end of the corridor...

At the end of the corridor was the last of these four rooms. It was spacious, caught all the sun, was orderly, always welcoming and there, reigned Bruce and to it, for leisurely morning teas would we young ones repair and put the world and much else, to rights - and learn a bit about the law and life in the process. No matter how busy Bruce might be one could drop in on him and have legal problems solved. His very presence saved the more lethargic hours of time in research for he knew most, if not all the answers delivered succinctly with wit and point. Landing there with Bruce's guidance was indeed to land on one's feet.

In the cellar was a fire/stove affair which heated the building. Conscious of Sir Arthur's advice I resolved never to learn how to get it going and on those occasions in mid-winter when its action struck problems, Mr Perry with his tidiness and asthmatic condition would emerge from the cellar wheezing and dust-covered and lamenting loudly that there was no point in asking Gerald for he knew nothing about it. I, sitting cleanly in my office probably cleaning my fingernails, was the recipient of one of Bruce's memorable observations: "Gerald," he said "you have a lack of curiosity which amounts almost to negligence.” It is funny now how, sometimes, a single observation someone made is lodged in one's thoughts forever.

Bruce's activities were not, however, confined to the office to which he had come with some intellectual distinction. He was Dux of his primary school, graduated from Canterbury University College, as it then was, with an LLM and Honours. While there, he was President of the Law Students' Society and subsequently, on qualification, lectured in law at the Christchurch Technical College and then at the University itself.

Heaven knows how he fitted everything in, but for years he served on the Council of the Canterbury District Law Society and became the Society's President. Understandably, he was elected a Vice-President of the New Zealand Law Society representing the South Island and representing it with gratitude from the profession here for he not only had an able grasp of administrative affairs but a compassion and understanding for any who fell by the wayside.

All this aside, many will remember how, were a speaker needed at short notice, the call went out to Bruce and he would, on a moment's notice, stand up and deliver a witty, perceptive and entertaining speech which would have the tables on a roar. He was a marvellous after dinner speaker. Often heard, never forgotten. He was also an active member of the Christchurch Forensic Society - a club distinguished by its accomplished membership and exacting speaking requirements. Bruce would cast a light there of which people still speak.

A really good man

So, here we have our witty, amusing, laughter-inducing, loyal friend. Intelligent, convivial, supportive and kind: a good man. A very good man. A really good man.

I have often reflected in later years - as perhaps we all may do - on those factors which go to make us what we are. Bruce was a child of the War years. Some Greeks took the view that Death was a kind companion who stepped in to help when needed but during those years he was a regular companion and I recall my father commenting on the often daily reports of the loss of people well-known -friends, relatives, neighbours. Bruce would recall being in the garden at home and seeing the police arrive to speak with his mother one afternoon. His brother, Jack, had been a member of a bomber crew returning to England after a raid on Dusseldorf. England's coast was in sight and they were relieved to be home but a solitary Messerschmidt, returning to its homeland, saw them and shot them down. Jack never saw home again and I have no doubt that his mother never got over it.

Events such as these maybe, just maybe, condition all those of similar youth and experience to have a much more philosophical view of life and not to take things too seriously and to put everything in some perspective. This helps to account for a more worldly attitude to life in many brought up in those dramatic times when one could ask one's father, as I did once, "What will be in the paper, Dad, when the War is over?" Six years of the whole planet at war was a remarkable experience. Soon forgotten by many not then present who, today, if one mentions recalling the dropping of the atomic bomb, wonder what you are talking about. And I have had a cynical view of the Germans ever since and recall telling Bruce recently how the Emperor Tiberius, when the Roman Empire was doing well, could sit on the Isle of Capri drinking wine and eating grapes with his only query “What are the Huns up to?” Bruce and Tiberius might have got along just fine.

Bruce, in later years, would join a group of us for a regular weekly lunch. He commented to me once that he did not feel he was pulling his conversational weight at the table. I said “Bruce, you must realise we are there to hear what WE have to say - not what anyone else may contribute. And if you say nothing, that will endear you even more to those gathered for it will provide for them an even greater opportunity to hold forth.” We would laugh at that and “besides” I added, “we all like you”.

Well, the time is past for that. With the family we shall miss him but we are lucky to have had him with us for so long and in such good shape. Our memories of him are not clouded by a painful close.

Cicero, whom Bruce knew something about, spoke once of the soul about which we all must, from time to time, reflect. That indefinable part of us which cannot be accounted for by physical responses and such like but which we know is US. Writing of the human frame, he said: "What Nature gives us is a place to dwell in temporarily, not one to make our own. When I leave life, therefore, I shall feel as if I am leaving a hostel rather than a home.”

Bruce is now on the way home. Bon Voyage.

This was first published in the July 2019 issue of Canterbury Tales, the monthly magazine of the Canterbury Westland branch of the New Zealand Law Society.

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Last updated on the 5th July 2019