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Justice Ralph Wylie, 1930 – 1992

by Colin Averill

Members of the profession, particularly those who practised with him in Christchurch, will have learnt with sadness of the passing of Mr Justice Ralph Wylie, who died on Monday 11 May 1992 in Auckland following a short illness. He was aged 62.

The late Judge was born in Geraldine. When his parents moved to Christchurch, he attended Christchurch Boys’ High School and from there, he attended Canterbury College, graduating LLB in 1952. He commenced work as a law clerk with Harper Pascoe Buchanan and Upham and following graduation joined the late RL Ronaldson, becoming a partner in 1956. He practised with that firm under the name of Ronaldson & Wylie and then Ronaldson Wylie & Averill until 1980.

During this period he gained a reputation as an able commercial lawyer and as an expert in liquor licensing. He also acquired a number of company directorships.

In 1981 he entered practice as a barrister sole and practised mainly in the field of commercial litigation. He was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1985.

His elevation to the High Court Bench in 1986 was universally acclaimed by his colleagues and the Judge and Mrs Wylie took up residence in Auckland. He rapidly gained a reputation as a courteous, able and understanding judge. The immediate concern expressed by members of the Auckland Bar at the onset of his illness in February this year was a tribute to the respect which he had acquired in a relatively short time.

The late Judge took a keen interest in Law Society affairs and was President of the Canterbury District Law Society in 1972/73, this office coinciding with the 1972 Law Conference of which he was Chairman of the Organising Committee.

He was Vice President of the New Zealand Law Society from 1979 to 1982 and was a member of the NZLS Disciplinary Committee for several years.

Ralph Wylie had an incisive mind, together with a dedication and capacity for hard work. He was a person of great integrity and always maintained the highest ethical standards. He was also, however, most understanding of his fellow man, and was unfailingly helpful to his legal colleagues. He enjoyed an excellent sense of humour and made many friends in the law.

In 1981 he gave a paper to the New Zealand Law Conference in Dunedin on the subject of Mind your business – the pros and cons in the course of which he expressed apprehension about lawyers engaging in entrepreneurial activity and also the problems arising from acting for both parties in loan transactions. Subsequent events have proved just how far sighted he was in this matter, but it was a rather unpopular attitude at the time.

He found time to participate in community affairs and was a member of the Board of the Nurse Maude District Nursing Association for many years.

The profession and the community are much the poorer for his passing but his partners, fellow practitioners and friends will always remember him as a fine lawyer, a very courteous and respected colleague and judge, who left an indelible mark on the law.

Our deepest sympathy goes to his wife Joan who has been a marvellous support to the Judge during his professional life, to his son and our colleague Edwin, his daughter Pam and his grandchildren. With all his family we share in the loss at his passing, at an age when he himself felt he still had much to do.

This obituary was first published in LawTalk 372, 8 June 1992, page 3.

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Last updated on the 11th May 2012