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Ian Jordan Mitchell MNZM, 1928 - 2018

By Nick Butcher

The family of retired lawyer Ian Mitchell who died on 5 July 2018 aged 89, say he will be remembered in his community as ‘The People’s Lawyer’.

Born in Blenheim in 1928, he grew up during World War Two and attended school at what were makeshift classrooms such as at the local fire station.

“That was because his actual school was being used as a hospital in case of an invasion by the imperial Japanese forces. He went on to border at Nelson College. When he was 16, he travelled to Wellington to begin a law degree at Victoria University. He would combine both study and work to make ends meet,” his son, Graeme Mitchell says.

41 years practising law in New Plymouth

In 1953, Ian Mitchell arrived by railcar in New Plymouth from Wellington to apply for his first job as a lawyer with the firm Govett Quilliam and Hutchen, now known as Govett Quilliam.

He got the job and went on to serve his clients and the community of Taranaki for the next 41 years until retiring from practice in 1994.

Ian Mitchell

“Dad became a partner two years after joining the firm and was a senior partner for 25 years until retirement.

"He loved the law, but even more than that, he loved to help his fellow people, and wanted to make a genuine difference to the community he lived in,” says Graeme Mitchell.

During his career, Ian Mitchell hired now retired lawyer John Eagles, who was fresh from law school and eager to begin practising law.

“It was at my job interview in about 1969 that I first met him, along with John Laurenson. Ian was very much a mentor to me. I have clear memories of going to Ian with a problem with a piece of work and he would just stop what he was doing, and begin drafting a document which would cover all the points needing attention. He had a very clear legal mind and this wonderful ability to just draft documents from scratch,” John Eagles says.

He says Ian Mitchell lived and breathed the language of the law.

“He didn’t do court work. He was very much an advisor of property and commercial law. He was right into trust work, drafting trustee deeds. His word was his bond was how he operated and he’d always get things done. He loved helping people,” he says.

Mr Eagles says Ian Mitchell had a way of making everybody feel important and that their legal challenges or problems were always solvable.

MNZM recipient

In 1996, Ian was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for his efforts to the law and his community of Taranaki.

The editor of the two Taranaki newspapers at that time, RJ Avery valued Ian’s legal guidance.

“Here is a person with total integrity and resolute humanity, but perhaps more outstanding has been his voluntary help and advice to individuals needing sound guidance,” he commented.

Ian Mitchell’s professional services were vast. They included supporting the New Plymouth District Council and Taranaki Regional Council, and the Taranaki Harbour Board. He also had involvement with the ‘Think Big’ programme and port infrastructure development in the 1980s.

“He also enjoyed representing the rural community and he assisted with the amalgamations of dairy companies throughout Taranaki, which led to the merging of Kiwi and the NZ Dairy Company to form Fonterra,” Graeme Mitchell says.

Voluntary work important to Ian Mitchell

His voluntary work contribution to Taranaki was also extensive and very important to him.

He was Honorary Solicitor for many voluntary organisations and charitable bodies. These included Crippled Children’s Society, Taranaki Scanner Trust, New Plymouth Boy’s High School Centennial Trust, Hard of Hearing Trust, New Plymouth District Council Museum and Library Development Committee, The Cyclone Bola Trust, The New Plymouth Opera House Trust, Little Theatre Operatic Society, establishing Tupare as a National Treasure, Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust, and the Cancer Society.

Other notable involvements included being a founding member establishing the Anglican-Methodist ‘Tainui Village’ from its conception in 1966.

Ian served on the Board for 25 years and was their first non-clergy Chairman for 13 years.

“I see Tainui as practical Christianity at its best, with our Anglican, Methodist and Catholic denominations working together in harmony for our elderly,” Ian Mitchell said at the time.

Ian lived his final years at that village he helped create.

In addition, Ian was a founding member of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery Board, and more recently the Len Lye Trust Foundation.

He was a Councilor on the Taranaki District Law Society, and their President from 1971-1973. He was also a Council Member of the New Zealand District Law Society from 1971-1973, and a member of the Taranaki/ Wanganui/ Manawatu District Disciplinary Tribunal.

Another significant contribution Ian made to Taranaki was with establishing the Bowl of Brooklands.

“Ian was on the founding Board which had a vision to transform a swamp in Pukekura Park into what is today, the Bowl of Brooklands. They established the Bowl, and the Festival of the Pines events programme. One of their first entertainers at the time being Kiri Te Kanawa they flew out from London, and of course the ever-popular ‘The Seekers’ in the early 1970’s which put the Bowl on the map,” says Graeme Mitchell.

Clients always spoke highly of his father, he says.

“They’d say Ian was the people’s lawyer. He always cared and did the best for us,” he says.

Ian Mitchell is survived by his wife Joan, who he shared 60 years of marriage with, along with his three children and six grandchildren.

His funeral took place at St Joseph’s Church, New Plymouth, on 9 July.

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Last updated on the 9th October 2018