New Zealand Law Society - A world to explore for late-studying free spirit

A world to explore for late-studying free spirit

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Judith McMillan
Judith McMillan

Undaunted by tackling a law degree in her forties, single, independent globe-trotter Judith McMillan – who once met Mother Teresa in France – established herself in Porirua, where, six months ago, she married “a guy down the road”.

“I decided I would take my time. I’m independent and pretty much a free spirit. I think I was very aware that being married was not in, and of itself, the be-all and end-all of everything,” Judith says.

“Not that I was wary of being married, it just wasn’t something that was my priority when I was young. But I was thinking as I was approaching retirement that maybe it would be nice to have a partner to come home to and be at home with at the end of the day.

Judith Mary (Judith) McMillan
Entry to law
Graduated MA (Hons) from Canterbury University and later with LLB (Hons), as a mature student, from Victoria University. Admitted in 1997.
Partner at Family Law Specialists, Porirua.
Speciality area
Family law.

“I met a great guy living just down the road, Philip Edmonds. He is a widower with children and grandchildren. I do not have any biological children but I have a number of children I have looked after and been “Mum” to over the years and now have step children and step grandchildren which is cool.

“Philip is a Māori from the East Coast. He’s bus driving at the moment and has done all sorts of things. He had a lot to do with establishing one of the local urban marae in Wellington, in Newlands, Nga Hau e wha.

“We are both strong-minded individuals and enjoy each other’s company. We’ll see what we do next, we have no definite plans for retirement and the world is our oyster.

“I went to a Porirua College 50th reunion recently and my old mates could not believe I had got married.

“I am an independent person and have done quite different things from my family. The first one in family to go to university, the path I took was a bit different from rest of the family. My sisters got married quite young and had children while I was out travelling the world doing different kinds of work.”

With a Masters degree in English and History from Canterbury University, Judith was a teacher, then left teaching and did various things. “Professionally I have been a teacher, school guidance counsellor and a lawyer.”

“I was director of youth for New Zealand Red Cross. Then went overseas for about seven years to England. I worked in a boarding school in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, running a senior boarding house and teaching a little bit. It was a lovely place to live and work.

“That gave me the opportunity to travel, which I love. I travel through Europe, through Russia, Asia, India, Japan, Cambodia, North and South America. I have not spent any time in South Africa, which is next on the list.”

Lure of the Islands

“I love the Cook Islands. When I first came to live in Porirua from my first teaching job in Christchurch, it felt as if I was coming home. I enjoyed the multicultural environment and was adopted into a Cook Islands family. One of the family is like a sister to me. I spend a lot of time in the Cook Islands. And Niue is also a very beautiful peaceful place to be.”

Both Judith’s grandfathers came to New Zealand from Northern Ireland during the first World War “with nothing in their pockets but a sense of adventure. They were both from impoverished backgrounds”.

Judith McMillan
Judith McMillan

“My paternal grandfather was not well and he settled on a tiny small holding out of Christchurch.  He died when my father was still young and I never met him. My Dad had to go to work when he was 12 with other family members to support the family.

“My other grandfather had a good business head and worked his way up from nothing. He got a bicycle and was a peddler round Mataura and southern parts. He married my grandmother, who came from Mataura, settled in Christchurch, built up several businesses and ended up with a fruit orchard.”

For the first nine or ten years of her life the family lived on a farm at Coutts Island outside Christchurch. Her father came from Leeston, “where my Nan was the Salvation Army officer”.

Studying as a mature student

“When I came back to New Zealand I bought an investment property with a couple of other friends and had a flatmate in her first year at law school who was bringing home papers to study. I was interested, looked at the course and wondered why I had never thought to do a law degree. I thought this is fascinating stuff and really up my alley.

“I didn’t want to go back to teaching but I had a temporary teaching job and I considered doing more qualifications in counselling. So I did a law paper, started my degree and thoroughly enjoyed it. Law was nowhere near as difficult as my first degree because, as you get older, you know how to learn.”

As a mature student in her 40s, Judith started her law degree at Victoria University part-time at first, until she decided to take up the opportunity to do Honours and went full-time, while working.

After finishing her law degree and her professionals, Judith got a job at the Office of the Ombudsman. “I enjoyed that work, but missed contact with people, especially young people. So I went into a general practice in Waikanae for a few years at Waikanae Law.

“I suppose I was headhunted by the firm I am in now. I knew a couple of partners, Catriona Doyle, who was made a Judge in 2016, and Rohan Cochrane. We all live here in Porirua and have become friends. I joined them in 2006 as an associate and became a partner.”

Travelling is Judith’s main hobby. “I like to travel overseas at least once a year and we have been to the Cooks this year. Next year it is the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

“I enjoy watching all sport and have played netball, basketball, volleyball and squash. I like team sports and coaching team sports. I like the strategy and the competitiveness.”

She enjoys singing, something she got from her Dad’s side of the family, and has sung in several choirs over the years “but it’s hard when you have a busy life to be in a choir and go to practice”.

“I like singable music, anything you can harmonise with. Anything with a guitar or round the piano. I attend a local church and it is quite a musical church. I learned piano and guitar but it’s the singing I enjoy. Hearing the singing at the rugby in Wales raises the hair on the back of your head.

“People have written original music and the church has produced a couple of CDs. I’ve written a couple of little drama plays for kids at church and love working with children.”


Judith reckons she reads a novel a day. “I read in the morning when I wake up and at night before I go to bed. I will sit in the sunshine on Saturday afternoons and read for a couple of hours. Fiction mostly - thrillers, detective, fantasy.

“My favourite is Tolkien. When I was about eight at school we had The Hobbit read to us. I asked the teacher if that person had written any other books and the teacher lent me his own set of Lord of the Rings.

“I devoured them and have read them over and over again. I’m a real Tolkien fan. I enjoy going into that other world of make believe.

“We watch the Amazing Race on TV and watch some of the Māori programmes my husband likes - Hui and Marae. I like hearing stories of local people and their endeavours. We always watch Country Calendar.

“We occasionally got to the movies but we live by the beach right next to the sea and I don’t like using the daytime to be stuck inside at a movie. I want to be out in the sun, even if I’m reading a book.

“My favourite holiday spot is Akaroa, where my uncle had a bach. And the Marlborough Sounds, where we used to go on holiday as a child. Some whanau have a place at Taupo. I love being near water, love being out in a boat, fishing or just being out in boat.

“Over the years I’ve had a cat and a dog but at moment we have decided our lives are too busy and we want to be pet free to travel. We may change our minds when we become a bit more sedentary and need a dog to get us out of the house.

“I drive a little Mitsubishi and we have a Dodge people mover.

“I have had involvement with the Porirua psychiatric hospital for a number of years. When they began to relocate people independently into the community some still had a number of connections to the hospital and one is to a chapel based in hospital grounds.

“I have connections to that chapel and transported people from the community to the church usually once a month. The people mover can take five or six people from the local area.”

Chance meeting with Mother Teresa

“I would like to spend some more time with Mother Teresa and she would be a dinner guest.

“I met her in person when my friend and I were travelling in Europe and we were in France. My friend said she wanted to find Taize, where she thought there was a community of singing nuns.

“There’s not, it’s a community set up after World War II by people connected to different religious groups - catholics, Greek orthodox, protestants, etc - and they formed this community which the called a community of reconciliation.

“The aim was to bring people together whose lives had been shattered after the war and promote reconciliation. I knew nothing about it but we found it and there were lots of tourist buses about.

“I asked a guy in café if a church service was on and in a broad Australia accent he said ‘Yeah yeah, there is but you better hurry up because Mother Teresa is here today’.

“She was making a visit to this community and we happened to be there. And we met her. She was an absolutely amazing person to hear speaking and be face to face with.

“And I’ve always wondered what Queen Elizabeth the First was like and would have liked to have met her. I would like to meet some of the great sportsmen and women, and Edmund Hilary.

“We would have a lamb roast, a choice of whatever drinks people wanted, and my lemon meringue pie. I like cooking and baking, but don’t much like other housewifely tasks.

“For my next career I wouldn’t mind being a psychologist, but I have also thought about being a travel guide.”

‘Miraculous’ court scenario

“I am committed to the mediation side of working in family court and do a lot of mediation work as lawyer for the child.

“We had one very difficult situation for which a 10-day court hearing was set down. It was a couple with a number of children, all of whom were taken out of their care, and various caregivers were applying for final orders to have them with them permanently.

“This was opposed by the mother and father and also by a set of grandparents. They were a Māori family in a very Pakeha court system. The evidence was all about the children and what was going to be best with them.

“The lawyer for the father came back at one stage and said they wanted to find a solution within the family. The father was a very hard man who had a point of view nobody thought would change. The judge stopped the hearing and we had a mediation. There was an outpouring of people’s true emotions and feelings, tears and prayers. Then the father apologised to everyone, even me, for not putting his children’s interests first.

“That was probably one of the most moving, memorable and miraculous situations I have been in. It showed to me the power of truth. The truth moved people in spite of themselves.

“I am constantly moved and surprised by the mediation process and I am very much in favour of the family group conference process. I wish there was more resources put into the family group conference process. I recommend it as a robust and effective process for change.

“The purple broom is a typical story of what happens when people separate. There are sometimes ridiculous things at issue and husband and wife fighting about everything.

“In this case I was acting for the wife and got a call from the lawyer for the husband, who demanded to have a number of household items for the weekend.

“Not one them was vital but one was a purple broom. My client, the wife, said he certainly was not going to get the purple broom, he can have the grey broom.

“The response from the other lawyer was ‘Why am I not surprised?’.”

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