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Margaret Ann McGregor Vennell ONZM, 1934 - 2015

By Geoff Adlam

Margaret Vennell died in Auckland on 18 June 2015 aged 80. As one of the first women to make a career as a legal academic, she had been associated with Auckland University's Faculty of Law for 34 years when she retired as Associate Professor in May 2001.

Born in Palmerston North on 18 September 1934, she was the daughter of Sir George Innes and Elizabeth Isabella Muriel (nee Young) McGregor. Her father was a Judge of the Supreme Court (now High Court) from 1953 to 1970.

Margaret was educated at Palmerston North's Carncot Girls School and Woodford House in Havelock North before enrolling to study law at Otago University in 1952. As the only woman in the class she encountered some difficulties and was apparently barred from some criminal law lectures. In 1955 she won the Otago University Dean of Law's Prize for Public Speaking. She moved to Wellington and completed her LLB at Victoria University in 1959, when she was also admitted as a barrister and solicitor.

Professor Vennell's first job after her admission was a year spent assisting barrister Robin Cooke, later Lord Cooke. She joined the Civil Aviation Department in 1961 and her work involved advising the government on the implementation of international air law conventions. She married John Adrian Vennell in 1962 and the couple settled in Auckland. They were to have two daughters, Catriona Jane (Kate) born in 1969, and Arabella Francis born in 1972.

On shifting to Auckland Professor Vennell was employed by the Legal Section of the Ministry of Works. She was subsequently transferred to Wellington and – in her own words – "escaped" what she later thought of as the real life version of Roger Hall's play Gliding On by working with the Law Reform Division of the Justice Department.

Her academic career began when she moved back to Auckland in 1967 and was appointed as a temporary lecturer in the Faculty of Law. As such she followed Nadja Tollemache (later an Ombudsman) who had been the first woman to join the faculty, in 1966.

Margaret Vennell's academic career flourished. Her lecturer appointment was made permanent in 1973 and she was appointed senior lecturer in 1976 and when she finished her career in May 2001 she was Associate Professor. She was Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty from 1982 to 1984.

A tribute on the Law Faculty website says while Professor Vennell taught a broad range of courses, including Air and Space Law and Commercial Law, she will be principally remembered by generations of law students for her teaching and research in Tort Law "in which she was something of an institution".

Her expertise in the field of torts was recognised when she was part of the author team for the first edition of Stephen Todd's Law of Torts in New Zealand (Law Book Company, 1991), the pre-eminent New Zealand treatise on the subject.  Other publications included the Tort Section of the New Zealand Commentary to Halsbury's Laws of England (1985), and the "No Fault Compensation" chapter in Mann's Medicine (Harvard, 1989).

A member of the University of Auckland Senate from 1984 to 1987, Professor Vennell was also a member of the Commerce Commission from 1989 to 1992 and on the Accident Compensation Corporation board of directors from 1987 to 1991. Her expertise in health law issues saw her appointed as a member of the ethics committee of the Health Research Council and as special adviser to the Health Minister on heatlh-related legislation. Her contribution to legal education and the law was recognised when she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 1996 Queen's Birthday Honours.

Auckland Law Faculty Dean Andrew Stockley says Margaret Vennell was a greatly admired and much respected member of the Faculty and her legacy will live on in the minds of those whose lives she touched during her years of service.

"Margaret was held in great affection by her students and former colleagues. She remained in touch with the Law School and took part in our Alumni Celebration Event in 2012. She will be greatly missed."

"I remember especially her kindness and the support she showed to me as a young woman new to the Faculty," Associate Professor Jo Manning recalls in the Faculty's tribute. "She was well known and loved for this quality – her kindness and keen interest in her students and colleagues. She will be remembered as much for her wonderful, self-parodying anecdotes with which she entertained numbers of Torts students over many years, as for her extraordinary enclyclopaedic knowledge of Torts Law. She had a wonderfully warm and colourful personality."

Sources: Max Lambert, Who's Who in New Zealand, 12th edition (Reed, 1991), pages 659-660; LawTalk 458, 24 June 1996, page 3; Alister Taylor, New Zealand Who's Who Aotearoa (Alister Taylor Publishers, 2001), page 903; LawTalk 560, 30 April 2001, page 17; Christine Grice, "Women in the Law", Law Stories (LexisNexis NZ Ltd, 2003), pages 273 and 280; Brian Coote, Learned in the Law. The Auckland Law School, 1883-2008 (Auckland University Press, 2009); University of Auckland Faculty of Law website, "In Memory of Margaret Vennell" (19 June 2015).

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Last updated on the 26th July 2018