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Norman Stewart Campbell, 1949 - 2010

by Bill Calver

Those Hawke’s Bay practitioners who knew Norman will have been very saddened by his untimely death last month. Norman was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stomach cancer in January and died only a matter of weeks later.

Norman’s parents were Raukawa farmers. He was sent away to board at Hereworth School at the age of 8 before going on to Collegiate where he excelled academically and in the sporting field. He rowed for Collegiate at a time when its rowing crew won virtually every trophy going and he was in the winning crew for two successive Maadi Cups.

Those who knew him would agree that Norman was a real character. Despite being the head prefect at Collegiate, he and a group of senior students took a lease on a flat in town where they bunked off after school to drink, smoke and entertain young ladies.

After he left school Norman studied law at Victoria University. According to his brother-in-law Judge Tim Druce who studied law with him at Victoria, the hi-jinks that he was famous for at Collegiate did not stop while he was studying at Victoria.

After graduating in 1973 Norman returned to Hawke’s Bay and joined the firm Commin Sheppard. He soon went into partnership with Hallett Heath & Co and then Hallett Heath Walsh & Co with his great friend Judge Tony Walsh and the late Ian Heath, himself one of Hawke’s Bay law’s great characters.

In 1983 Hallett Heath Walsh & Co amalgamated with Simpson Bate & Partners to form the firm of Bate Hallett & Partners.

I don’t think anyone would disagree with me that Norman was a superb lawyer. He had an excellent knowledge of the law, especially some of the more arcane aspects of trusts, conveyancing, taxation and commercial law. On the other hand, he was also very good at devising very practical solutions to legal problems.

I never met a client who did not have immense respect and affection for Norman. He was not without the eccentric aspects of his personality. He was quite famous for his “power naps”. Whilst he would generally have these when he popped home for his lunch, they sometimes occurred in the office. Tony Walsh told the story at Norman’s funeral of how on one occasion Norman dropped off at his desk in front of an elderly female client. When he woke up half an hour later he apologised profusely, but the client wasn’t fazed. “You looked so peaceful Mr Campbell,” she said. “I just didn’t want to wake you!”

In 1988 Norman moved to Wellington where he became a partner of Rudd Watts (now Minter Ellison Rudd Watts). His joining that firm coincided with the Lange Government’s reforms of the public sector and Norman made the transition from dealing with Hawke’s Bay trusts and farm sales to being involved in transactions involving hundreds of millions of dollars with consummate ease.

Norman had a great capacity for re-inventing himself. In 1995 he retired from Rudd Watts and purchased a substantial pastoral farm near Gladstone in the Wairarapa. He worked as a consultant for the Masterton firm of Gawith & Partners for several days a week and lived the life of a gentleman farmer and farm-stay host. He commuted to Wellington in the weekends where his wife, Josie, was working as a stockbroker.

In 2003 Norman and Josie sold the farm and for the next several years they travelled extensively overseas. While overseas they had many adventures. For a period they worked as “animal aunts”, looking after the animals and fabulous houses and castles of the rich and famous. For a period Josie worked in London as a financial ombudsman. Later they moved to Edinburgh where Norman worked in the Procurator Fiscal’s office. The Procurator Fiscal is a rather unique institution. Its main task is to investigate Police files to see whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution. Norman loved his work with the Fiscal’s office, although he did blanch on one occasion when he visited a crime scene where the victim had suffered such serious wounds that his entrails were exposed… It was a testament to Norman’s abilities that the Procurator Fiscal attempted to persuade Norman to stay permanently and continued his attempts to entice Norman back even after he had returned to New Zealand.

On his return to New Zealand Norman was appointed as the National Specialist Adviser for the Legal Services Agency. He was actively involved in the planning for the substantial changes that are about to occur to legal aid, even attending some meetings when he was seriously ill. I have no doubt that his wisdom and common sense approach will be missed by the Agency.

Norman had a passion for hunting and fishing going back to his farming childhood. He was taught the noble art of fly fishing by his father as a small boy. He was a magician with a fly or a nymph. He was also a keen duck shooter and deer stalker. Norman and I hunted and fished together for over 30 years from Stewart Island to the Ureweras. When we were partners together at Bate Hallett, we could sneak off at lunchtime, race along Omahu Beach, down Oak Road and be fishing in the Ngaruroro 10 minutes after leaving the office!

For many years Norman was active in the Hawke’s Bay Acclimatisation Society, serving a term as its President. He successfully spearheaded an application to have a Protection Order placed over the Mohaka River to prevent the Electricity Department damming it for hydro schemes. The thousands of anglers and rafters who visit the Mohaka annually owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Like many lawyers, Norman had a fascination with words and wrote poetry. A volume of his poetry is to be published posthumously.

Norman Campbell was a great friend and a terrific lawyer. The profession is poorer for his premature passing.

This obituary was first published in the Hawke’s Bay branch newsletter, April 2010.

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Last updated on the 11th May 2012