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Miriam Anne Menzies, 1955 - 2014

Described as a "strong and very gentle person with a real sense of fun", Miriam Menzies was also a competent and caring lawyer who worked over many areas of the law but had a particular interest in protection of the young and the elderly and wider family law.

Miriam was born in Dunedin on 22 December 1955, the fifth of eight children of Nugent and Dorothy Menzies. After service as a naval radio officer during the war, Nugent worked for himself in small businesses in Southland. The family lived in relatively straitened circumstances, at one stage crowded into a flat above the family's small dairy, eight kids and mum and dad, five boys in one room, three girls in another. Later they shifted to a hotel which the family owned.

Nugent's progressive attitudes led him to instil in his children the importance of obtaining a good education, particularly for women. Miriam's brother Paul says: "I think the old man saw education as a way out of the poverty trap".

Miriam spent her primary school years at St Dominic's school in Dunedin. Her secondary school years were mostly spent at St Catherine's Dominican College in Invercargill. The social conscience that revealed itself later in Miriam's legal career was no doubt nurtured by the Dominican nuns, by her father's attitudes to education and by his involvement over many years with the St Vincent de Paul Society, the Catholic voluntary organisation dedicated to serving the poor.

When Miriam left school she first planned to be a teacher and attended teachers' training college in Dunedin. She soon decided that teaching was not for her and did not complete the training. She moved to Wellington and worked for the Treasury for a while, and after starting a family decided to study law at Victoria University in the 1980s.

She was admitted to the bar in 1989, her admission moved by her brother Paul Menzies, a lawyer in Winton. She went to work as a staff solicitor with the firm of Grubi and Newell in Upper Hutt where she undertook a variety of legal tasks including conveyancing, estates and court work.

After Reg Newell left the practice, Miriam and Rod Grubi formed a new partnership in May 1995, under the name of Rod Grubi & Miriam Menzies.

Rod Grubi enjoyed practice with Miriam and says she was a very energetic lawyer. "She was young and I was old," he says. "She was keen to expand and change things."

He relates an occasion when he was ill and she came to his house with six files that he had been working on. "We went through each file and I said you need to do this and that - she summed up the situation very quickly and dealt with the files perfectly - she was very quick on the uptake."

Rod Grubi retired in November 2002 after 43 years practice in Upper Hutt and Miriam began practice on her own account as Miriam Menzies & Co. She worked from her old office before moving to CBD Towers in Upper Hutt.

She had a busy practice and worked with a wide range of clients but with a particular interest in family law. She was frequently appointed as counsel for the child or counsel to assist the court in complex family cases, and she had a significant criminal law practice. She was elected to the Law Society's Family Law Section Executive in March 2012 but resigned in March 2013 when she became unwell.

Miriam was also a youth advocate and was experienced at acting for young people charged with offences. There was a lot of publicity about a case she was involved with in 2012 when she acted for a 16-year-old woman who had been held in police custody for more than 24 hours in contravention of the Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act, and additionally was separated from her breast-fed baby. The charges against Miriam's client were dismissed because of breaches of arrest procedures.

A close friend, Val Sim, says that as a lawyer Miriam's hallmarks were her absolute integrity and her fearless pursuit of what she believed was right.

"She could not tolerate injustice and worked hard to prevent it wherever she saw it. Miriam also had a strong sense of community. No matter how busy she was she gave freely of her time to improve things both for her colleagues and for the community as a whole. Her efforts in trying to prevent the closure of the Upper Hutt court are just one example ... [She] had a passionate interest in family law reform."

Miriam had a great love and talent for music. She sang in the choir of St Mary of the Angels in Wellington, and also played the guitar. She was an avid listener of music with wide-ranging musical tastes. Leonard Cohen was a particular favourite - on one of Cohen's recent tours she managed to attend five concerts: four in New Zealand and one in Brisbane.

She loved spending time with her children Nisha and Josh. Brother Mike says she was a shrewd judge of surf breaks as the result in past years of taking Josh to surf beaches up and down the Wellington and Wairarapa cost.

Miriam liked to have fun and to have the odd celebration. She was a social person who had made many good friends and enjoyed spending time with them. Val Sim again: "As a friend, Miriam's hallmarks were her loyalty and keen sense of fun. She was an exceptional hostess and her many friends benefited from her ability to bring interesting people together as well as from her undoubted culinary skills."

Miriam died in Wellington on 16 February 2014. She is survived by daughter Nisha, a Wellington lawyer, and son Josh who works as an analyst with the Ministry of Justice. Law runs in Miriam's family. As well as Nisha, two of Miriam's brothers, Michael and Paul, her niece Jane and her nephew Christopher are also lawyers. Another nephew Nick is studying law in Queensland.

This obituary was first published in Council Brief, the magazine of the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Law Society, April 2014, page 3

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Last updated on the 7th April 2014