Rolling Stones fan, community fundraiser and sometime King Herod, Queenstown lawyer Graeme Todd is looking for another big project.
A ski trip to Aspen, Colorado, earlier this year convinced him that Queenstown – which has plenty of private galleries - needed a public art gallery.
- Graeme Morris (Graeme) Todd
- Entry to law
- Graduated LLB from Otago University in 1981. Admitted in 1981.
- Partner and Notary Public at Todd & Walker Law, Queenstown.
- Specialist area
- Resource management, tourism infrastructure, overseas investment.
“Aspen has an incredible public art gallery and I have come back with a bit of a mission from a fund-raising perspective to try to get a public gallery off the ground in Queenstown. Some of the best tourist places around the world are developing fantastic galleries and they have become an attraction in themselves,” he says.
“You have to find the right location and a lot of money, but we are very fortunate to have a lot of people who come to this area who often have very high philanthropic experiences, so we might be able to tap into that.
“Often, our clients are very generous people. It’s an ability to tap into that, especially those who come from overseas.”
He has been active in the Queenstown and Central Otago communities, including chairing successful fund-raising campaigns for the Queenstown crèche ($450,000) and Wakatipu High School information and technology upgrade ($250,000).
“I would like to try to get into something and be involved in a major project for the community … we have a strong sense of community here but often in a tourist town it flies under the radar a little bit.”
He recently took in as partner former Meredith Connell prosecutor and more recently Queenstown and Lakes District Council in-house counsel Michael Walker, changing the firm’s name from GTODD Law to Todd & Walker Law.
“I am the youngest of three with no previous family involvement in law. My father was a fitter welder, my mother was a schoolteacher - which I have never held against her – my older brother is in finance in Wellington and my sister is a kindy teacher.
“My wife Jane and I have four children between us. My son Jeremy works in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), daughter Claudia is a consultant with a nanny agency in London, step-daughter Alice has done an extensive stint on superyachts around the world and now lives in Chamonix, France, where she manages lodges, and step-daughter Sarah - the youngest - is an air traffic controller in Queenstown.
“That’s part of the travel thing. Daughters like you to visit them regularly and also find somewhere nice where they can come to stay, too - when mum and dad pay for it.
Bad maths, good law
“I was attracted to law because I was very bad at maths, and constantly have to remind my staff and clients to check the bills carefully.
“I had a year as an American Field Service exchange student in the United States in 1975/76 where I did a law paper at Granada Hills High School in Los Angeles and became interested in law from there.
“I came back and started doing an LLB and a BCom but my inadequacies in maths very quickly put paid to the BCom and I started to enjoy the law.
“After two years at Otago University I thought I better find out what lawyers do, so I knocked on a few doors in Dunedin and was lucky enough to get a job with what’s now Cook Allan but then was Gallaway Son and Chettleburgh.”
Like many senior lawyers, Graeme comes from a time when students tackled any jobs they could to get through studies.
His various high school and university holiday jobs included retail shop storeman, wool store storeman, freezing worker, potroom maintenance worker at the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, brewery laboratory technician and law clerking.
“I was clerk to Iain Gallaway, the well-known cricket commentator, and later went to Patterson Lang and worked with Trevor Shiels, who is now a Queen’s Counsel.
Hooked on Q-town
“We used to do Queenstown sole practitioner Alan Macalister’s agency work and he asked me in my final year what I was going to do - I was thinking about heading overseas – but he asked me to come to Queenstown for a year in 1981 and I never left.
“These days my sporting interests are in golf, both Jane and I play and are members at the Hills and Millbrook clubs in Queenstown. Jane is a very keen skier and I recently reignited my interest having not skied for 10 years.
“We went on a skiing holiday to North America last month – a week in Aspen and a week in Park City, Utah. I managed to last for 10 days … it was fantastic.
“I’m a keen couch supporter of Highlanders rugby – the firm has tickets in the Dunedin stadium. My father had a long interest as a rugby administrator in Southland so I still support the Stags in the NPC. But I think I am self-banned from travelling overseas to watch the All Blacks because every time I do they manage to lose.
“I don’t paint – and no-one else in the family does - but I have developed an appreciation and interest in art over the years. My wife criticises me because I tend to lean towards New Zealand landscape artists and she says I have to think outside the square a bit.
“I would love to be able to afford a Grahame Sydney. I enjoy Dunedin artists Maria Kemp and Anna Reid – we have a couple of Maria Kemp’s paintings in the office.
The travel bug
“I never did my OE but have been fortunate enough to do a lot of travel. Queenstown is one of those places you’ve got to get out of on a regular basis. It’s a bit claustrophobic both socially and physically but is better socially now.
“When I first came here it was a sleepy country town with a bit of a commercial tinge to it. Those days are gone and it’s now an international resort.”
A stint later in life as a Rotary scholar in Nigeria as part of a group study exchange sparked Graeme’s interest in Africa.
“I met a guy at the Hong Kong Sevens in the late 90s who has become a close friend and who lives in South Africa. We have travelled there a number of times and to other parts of Africa.
“I could be in a safari vehicle every day of the week - and never want to go to a zoo again. I’ve been to Tanzania and 18 months ago to Botswana – a fantastic experience.
“Kaiteriteri and Waiheke Island are our favourite holiday places in New Zealand. When you live in Queenstown you want to get to a beach and somewhere that’s a bit warmer water than Lake Wakatipu.
Keeping the rowdies out of jail
“Before I married and had children I had a stint managing junior rugby teams – young renegades - which I enjoyed. I seemed to spend more time keeping them out of jail on Saturday night. They are still here in the community and many of them have been very successful in different fields.
“Our then local police chief, Sgt Warwick Maloney, always used to say to me ‘Right, Graeme, you’re in charge and fully responsible for these young guys, I don’t want to hear from them or see them’. That burden weighed heavy on my shoulders at times. Especially after a long bus trip to Ranfurly.
“I read a lot of autobiographies and have just finished John Lee’s book - we have acted for him over the last 30 years – they call him the mayor of the Cardrona.”
Mr Lee was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2015 in recognition for his work in developing Cardrona as a destination.
“And I thoroughly enjoyed Rolling Stone guitarist Ronnie Wood’s Ronnie, The Autobiography, more than The Who’s Pete Townsend because Pete’s was more musically technical. Ronnie is a great character who enjoys his art and is an accomplished painter in his own right.
Ronnie Wood’s guitar pick
“I saw the Stones in Wellington in 2006 and managed to catch one of Ronnie’s picks as he threw it into the crowd. It’s sitting in the bottom of a drawer at moment. Yes, it should be framed and up on the wall.”
As one Stones fan to another the conversation moved to bass player Bill Wyman’s book Rolling With The Stones, which highlighted Wyman’s obsession with collecting bits of paper, tickets, receipts, timetables, etc.
“I have a wide taste in music including the Stones and James Taylor. One of my biggest regrets is I don’t play music. My brother is a good guitar and piano player. I’ve always sung and been in church choirs.
“A couple of years ago I did a cameo performance in a local production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar - I played King Herod and sang his song, which was a lot of fun. I had to walk across a swimming pool. They had a big audio visual screen behind me which showed me walking across Lake Wakatipu.
“We are fortunate here to have an excellent picture theatre and Dorothy Brown’s two little theatres in Arrowtown, where a glass of wine and cheese board go down well.
“We enjoy Netflix and I’m hooked on The Queen, Homeland, Billions and Suits. Helen Mirren is a favourite as is the very talented Sam Neill, who I know personally.
“I drive a Volvo V60 hatchback which I can fit my golf clubs in. The guy I buy my cars from knows to always have a set of golf clubs handy.
“Ronnie Wood would be my first choice as a dinner guest, along with Donald Trump and Roger Federer, whom I have always admired and was lucky enough to see him play in a couple of Grand Slams. Probably serve crayfish, prawns, and oysters - as long as they were battered … and Chardonnay.
“If I wasn’t lawyering I would be keen on sports management, which has a bit of a legal bent. Or a broadcaster. I used to do a little sports show in Central Otago on Saturday mornings in the 1980s on Q92FM with the legendary Chas Drader and thoroughly enjoyed that. A lot of phone interviews with sports people and visitors to Queenstown.
“I’m good friends with Ken McKenzie, a partner at RSM Law in Timaru. We law clerked in Dunedin and were in the same union as the Woolworths checkout girls.
“I very nearly ended up in Timaru as a lawyer and spent a lot of time there in my younger years. My grandmother lived there and one year I managed to get third in Master Caroline Bay. I was about three years old.”