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Peter Harold Barbour, 1947 - 2016

By Jim Simpson

Peter Barbour died on 4 November 2016 aged 69. He spent the last 20 years of a long legal career in Foxton, describing himself as “the town lawyer” and providing selfless service to the community of which he was an integral part.

Peter Harold Barbour was born on 1 July 1947, two years after the end of World War II, the son of Jack and Joyce Barbour of Gisborne. He is survived by his brother Gary and his nephews Hamish and Ian and his niece Joanne.

Peter was educated in Gisborne and later Otago University. He graduated LLB in 1970 and while he was clerking in the Dunedin law firm Brodrick Parcell Milne & Howley where he understudied the late great George Howley QC. Peter completed his professional examinations and was admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand in 1970.

Shortly after graduating Peter worked briefly for a firm in Invercargill. He then obtained a position with the Levin firm of Bertram Grover & Butler and moved to the North Island. He remained with that firm for a number of years and became a partner. During his time in Levin he married, in great style, his beautiful girlfriend Lesley. Sadly, the marriage did not last.

Peter moved from Levin to Foxton where he worked for Simpson & Co as successor to the venerable Foxton legal firm of Bergin & Cleary. From there he spent some years in the Crown Solicitor’s firm of Adams & Wood in Dunedin where he took great pride in working with Bill Wright who was the Crown Prosecutor. He left Dunedin to move north to the Bay of Islands where he managed the Kerikeri practice of Palmer Macauley. He finally returned again to Foxton in 1999 where he lived for the last twenty years of his life.

Photo of Peter Barbour and workmates
Peter Barbour (right) and workmates Jim Simpson and Lisa Takarangi. 

Peter Barbour could have almost any job in any law firm in this country.  He could have had his name appearing in the newspapers and he had the ability (make no mistake) to follow the path leading to wealth and fame. But he didn’t. He chose to distinguish himself, as he put it, as “the town lawyer” in the small but proud town of Foxton and he did that job - as an all-round general practitioner - superbly well.

His talents (which were recognised and respected by all his colleagues in the law, both those that he worked with and those he opposed) were applied not for his own benefit, but selflessly to the benefit of his clients, the people of Foxton. Although he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and quickly put those who presumed too much in their place, he selflessly served the people of Foxton continuously and to the best of his ability, appearing in the Family and Criminal Courts, dealing with conveyancing and estates, resolving disputes and often being sought out after hours for his valued advice which he freely gave. He also gave, very privately, large sums of his own money to give impecunious clients who he believed needed a helping hand.  And he served right up until his untimely death at the age of 69.

Peter will be sadly missed by his colleagues and work mates, for his incisiveness, for his ability to remain calm and decisive in a crisis and for his friendship and sense of humour. Lisa Takarangi, in particular, will feel his loss keenly.  She and he worked together every day (or joined at the hip as a colleague said) for over 20 years.

Peter’s quick wit was one of his most engaging characteristics, as was his old-fashioned sense of what was right and proper.

To say Peter was eccentric is an understatement. In the best sense of the word, “eccentric” was coined specifically for Peter (as they might say now, he was “beyond eccentric”). His very British voice, his eternally-present Harris Tweed sports coat, his Jack Russell on a leash, his mannerisms: all these things that were part of Peter set him apart from the mundane and ordinary. It was no surprise therefore that he was a close friend and confidant of that other great and notorious Foxton character Karl Theodore Sim - also known variously as “the late Karl Goldie”, or the “Foxton forger”. Peter played a leading hand as instructing solicitor with Ken Bailey as counsel, in constructing Sim’s now-famous “is it any less beautiful” defence in his celebrated forgery trial.

His other two very close Foxton friends were Johnny Ellison who served as friend and bodyguard on many of Peter’s occasional sorties out of the district (or as his typist said, “his sortings” out of the district) and also out of the country, and his long-term very close mate Rory Smith who stuck with him over the years. Peter was also friendly with the Packer family before he became Russel’s neighbour, and as Brenda Packer said to me once, referring to one of Peter’s parties: “Jim you wouldn’t believe the things we’ve seen”.

One of Peter’s eccentricities, he being a great actor and a past member of many repertory groups, was to use his British accent to make mischief. I particularly remember one occasion when he and a group of friends arrived at a five star hotel in Auckland the day before a rugby test. Peter went straight to the house bar. He wasn’t seen again for all of the afternoon and most of the evening. I happened to be in the lobby when I overheard his unmistakeable raised voice coming from bar.

“How dare you speak to me like that. Don’t you know who I am … for goodness sake man, I’m Lord Barbour.”

The next day when I was checking the group out, the hotel manager called me aside and said to me in a conspiratorial voice,

“Well Mr Simpson do you think Lord Barbour will forgive us for our ignorance? We moved him into our V.I.P suite last night.”

Peter was an avid reader. In his leisure time he could often be found reading a history or biography. Peter enjoyed the fine arts. He had an extensive, eclectic collection of New Zealand paintings (and forgeries).

He was a keen gardener. He created at his own expense the peaceful garden behind the former offices of Bergin & Cleary now Simpson & Co in Foxton. He named the garden the Millennium Garden.

He liked animals. In Dunedin he had an Alsatian which he named Brahms. It was as big as he was. In Foxton he owned successive Jack Russell terriers. First Doris, and then lately, accompanying him regularly to the office AND named to annoy me, Barty Simpson.

But his work life was the most important pastime in his eyes. He chose the law. He studied it.  He became not just proficient in it, but very good at it and he practised it well all his life. Peter’s legacy, is not in property, not in hundreds upon hundreds of dollars. His legacy is in service. It is in the hundreds upon hundreds of people for whom, and to whom, he gave freely of his time, his knowledge and his money over many, many years.

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Last updated on the 14th December 2016