New Zealand Law Society

Navigation menu

Michael Anthony Samuel Woolf, 1939 - 2016

By Geoff Adlam

Michael Woolf died in Wellington on 20 June 2016 aged 77. While he had successful careers as a broadcaster and magician, he was also the long-standing editor of the New Zealand Charity and Legal Gazette, a publication well-known to many lawyers.

Born in Essex, England on 19 June 1939 Michael Woolf's parents ran a photography business until they decided to migrate to New Zealand when Michael was nine. He was given a set of Punch and Judy puppets to help pass the time during the long ocean voyage and began a lifetime of performance.

An interest in magic developed from visits to Stewart's Studio of Magic in Manners Street, Wellington and he was awarded a lifetime achievement award in magic at the 31st New Zealand International Magician Convention in 2012. He was also awarded the Scroll of Honour for livetime achievement by the Variety Artists Club.

photo of Michael Woolf 
Michael Woolf (left) greets fellow magician John Calvert. 

After leaving school Michael joined the New Zealand Broadcasting Service and trained as a radio announcer, working at Wellington stations. He married Jill in 1962 and the couple had three sons.

In an eventful life he also found time to take on the at-times demanding task of editing and publishing the New Zealand Charity and Legal Gazette. This had been first published in 1975 by Wellington lawyer George Joseph as a source of information on charity contacts. Distributed free to lawyers, it celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015.

Michael Woolf had crossed paths with George Joseph well before the Gazette was established. While still at school he worked for Joseph's publishing company (which produced two weekly horse racing magazines) as an "office boy".

In an article in the 2015 edition of the Gazette, he noted that about 50 years later he had been talking with a colleague who had been married to a friend of George Joseph, and who recalled a saying which dated back to Michael's time as an office boy: "Look out for that young so-and-so: one day he's going to own the company."

That saying had come true in 2001 when Michael Woolf heard that the Gazette needed an owner, he told LawTalk in 2012:

Image of Gazette 
 Michael Woolf was publisher from 2001 onwards.

"I was teaching at the Polytechnic when a great journalist Nadoo Ballantine-Scott, an old colleague of mine, asked me if I wanted to buy it, I said buy what? And he said 'the Gazette you fool'.

"I said yes and was left holding the baby!"

Editing and producing the Gazette was a steep learning curve for Mr Woolf, who formed a company called The Production House Ltd to publish it (as well as Magicana, New Zealand's magazine for magicians which was established in 1953).

"I drove myself nearly to the edge of a nervous breakdown as it was far too much to take on. After a few years, though, I learnt and got a few others on board."

A tireless advocate for the service provided by the Gazette to lawyers and charities, Michael Woolf arranged for the New Zealand Law Society to distribute it each year to members of the Property Law and Family Law Sections. A splendid raconteur and larger-than-life personality he was a persuasive advocate.

With the growth of the internet and other ways of providing information on charities and opportunities for bequests, the Gazette grew slimmer, but was still an important source of information. In his last issue Michael Woolf described it as follows:

"Published since 1975 as a compendium of organisations and bodies working for the betterment of Humankind, the animal world and the environment. Published by The Production House Ltd to aid donors in the understanding of the roles of each organisation listed in the pages."

Last updated on the 13th July 2016