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Thomas (Tom) Allan Cunningham, 1905 - 1987

By Gordon Caldwell

The recent death of Mr Tom Cunningham at Kandahar Masterton on 3 August 1987 aged 82 marked the end of a long and distinguished legal career which spanned some 58 years.

Mr Cunningham, one of a family of seven, was born in 1905 in Waikouaiti and subsequently attended Otago Boys’ High School and Otago and Victoria Universities.

Following employment with the Inland Revenue Department he came to Masterton in 1929 to join his elder brother, the late Dr HA (Bert) Cunningham, in the legal firm of Robinson and Cunningham. He was admitted to the Bar as a barrister and solicitor in 1933 and continued active practice in Masterton until 1984 when the partnership of Robinson and Cunningham was dissolved and he became a consultant with Gawith Cunningham & Co.

During the course of his career he was editor of the then leading income tax textbook, Cunningham and Dowland, which was used extensively by taxation specialists and advisers.

With his brother, Dr HA Cunningham, he spent a period in Auckland, when they were responsible for legal work and advice which led to formation of NZ Forest Products Ltd through bondholders of Perpetual Forests. This saw the birth of what is today one of New Zealand’s largest public companies.

Apart from being highly regarded throughout New Zealand as a tax lawyer he was in fact a pioneer in the construction, documentation, and administration of family and charitable trusts. His services were sought by both individuals and colleagues. He appeared in the High Court in a number of leading cases.

Perhaps the peak of his legal career was achieved when in 1964 he travelled to London to present an appeal to the Privy Council against a decision of the New Zealand Court of Appeal. He appeared personally and alone. Against considerable odds he won the case and the appeal was allowed.

Mr Cunningham was generous with both time and support for local educational, charitable and community projects. He was a member of the Solway College board of governors for 16 years, six of them as chairman; a Rotarian for 45 years including president in 1951-52, a member of the Masonic Lodge for over 50 years and for many years a member of the Masterton Club and the Wairarapa Arts Centre.

He will however be remembered particularly for his 33 years of outstanding service to Kandahar. After working towards establishment of the home he became a member of the foundation committee in 1956 and remained a member until his death. He was also chairman for several years. Some months ago he was honoured by being granted the title of Member Emeritus.

Mr Cunningham maintained a close and practical interest in farming and the local branch of Federated Farmers. He was a keen trout fisherman and enjoyed boating and shooting.

He is survived by his widow Anne who worked with him in the same legal firm for an uninterrupted period of 53 years. His brother, Ray, lives in Masterton and a sister, Jessie, in Havelock North.

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