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Ronald Williams Baird OBE, 1918 - 1987

By JT Eichelbaum

Mr Ronald Williams Baird, for many years the senior partner of the firm now known as Chapman Tripp Sheffield Young, and latterly a sole practitioner, died suddenly on 21 July 1987, at the age of 69.

After attending Rongotai College and Victoria University, where he gained distinction academically and as a tennis player, Ron Baird worked pre-war for Izard Weston & Co and then at Chapman Tripp.

He had a distinguished war record, rising to the rank of Wing Commander in the Royal Air Force, being mentioned in dispatches in 1943 and awarded the OBE in 1945.

On his return, his interests and energies focused on his legal work and on developing the law practice of Chapman Tripp & Co which he rejoined. When he and his great friend Norman Morrison because partners in 1949 there were only four other principals.

For the next 30-plus years Ron was at the forefront of Chapman Tripp’s expansion and development. Under his leadership the firm became one of the first to shed the Dickensian atmosphere in which the law was commonly practised until the 1950s, the first firm with offices in both Wellington and Auckland, the first with an in-house computer. Ron was fascinated with technology and was forever keen to try out whatever new was going be it coffee machines or telex equipment.

His energy, enthusiasm and vision were limitless and infectious. It one was to keep up with him it was not so much a matter of getting up early, but of never going to sleep. He forever thought and acted on an expansive scale. An inveterate workaholic, the hours he devoted to his practice were endless and there accumulated around him a host of legends, such as the all-night cleaning up sessions which invariably preceded his departures overseas, the stream of work and messages which continued to flow in as he journeyed around the globe, and the sometimes unexpected fruits of his missions, as when he went to England to recruit one or two new staff and returned with eight.

Ron Baird had a very positive outlook on life. “Let’s give it a go” was one of his favourite catchcries. He was never content to plan in the abstract; he loved to design layouts of offices, furniture, boats and houses and to oversee every detail of their construction to his exacting standards. His influence on the modernisation of legal practice was widespread as others came to see and copy.

As well as Law Society work (in particular for many years he was a member of the Joint Audit Committee) Ron was active in the accountancy profession. His service as trustee of the New Zealand Society of Accountants Superannuation Fund for over 20 years was recognised when he achieved the rare distinction for a practising lawyer of being elected to the status of Fellow Chartered Accountant.

He served as Chairman of the Tourist Advisory Council and as a member of the Armed Forces Canteen Council. He was a keen Rotarian and member of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, becoming President of the latter body. At various times he was a director of James Smiths and Carter Holts and at his death was on the Board of the Bay of Plenty Times.

Despite his formidable reputation as a commercial lawyer, he was inclined to find his greatest satisfaction in helping to establish some relatively small enterprise and nursing it along.

Although it is more than 35 years ago I can well remember meeting Ron for the first time. He had that kind of effect on people. Bustling, energetic, chin thrust forward, good looking, confident, a bright young man forging ahead. He became one of those larger-than-life personalities who, through attributes out of the ordinary, give colour and life to the profession.

Although, as I often found in my years of partnership with him, he could have an extraordinary effect on one’s blood pressure, it was impossible to remain other than fond of him. Good humour always lay close to the surface along with a willingness to seek solutions. He would put more important matters aside for anyone who needed advice with a problem, assistance with some personal transaction or just a sympathetic ear. He generously shared his achievements with those around him and inspired loyalty among his staff.

Ron’s capacity and energy were such that he seemed indestructible. It is difficult to believe that suddenly, with life in full flight, he has gone. But one feels that if the moment had to come, that is how Ron would have wanted it.

This was first published on page 9 of the September 1987 issue of Council Brief, the monthly newsletter of the Wellington District Law Society.

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Last updated on the 27th June 2017