New Zealand Law Society - Anthony Gordon Keesing, 1930 – 1986

Anthony Gordon Keesing, 1930 – 1986

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Tony Keesing died on 17 February 1986. Those who didn’t know Tony may pause to note only that he died three days prior to his 56th birthday, and that will be thought by most to be too young to die.

I knew him from my first days as a law student at Victoria University where his academic record was infinitely superior to mine and where his popularity, while established in its own right, was not diminished by the fact that he lived handy by in Kelburn and his parents sometimes went away, taking their courage in both hands.

He came from Wellington College with a stream of high academic ability and he exhibited in his student days a thirst for knowledge and a power of retention of what he had learned which he practised and exhibited throughout his professional career. He was as generous of heart as any man I know or knew, and would spend hours assisting the disadvantaged, advising professional colleagues who needed assistance, and donating time and interest without reward or prospect of reward.

Those who knew him closely knew that he did not enjoy rude good health but they knew that aliunde because no one would ever have heard him complain. After all, he held a boxing blue at Victoria and you have to be full of vigour and resilience to box, let alone win a blue. And when he was in the ring, no matter the size of the opponent, he never went backwards, always carried the battle, always forced taller, heavier, more redoubtable opponents on to the back foot. He was fearless, despite his stature, a veritable terrier.

His consideration for others – I turn my mind to a simple incident which I think best reflects that. In the early 1950s when 300 pounds per annum was a princely emolument for a law student, qualified or unqualified, there appeared on the noticeboard at Victoria an advertisement for a position at 750 pounds per annum. It had the entire Faculty stampeding first to the noticeboard and then to the mailbox dispatching applications to a practice north of Wellington. I applied; so did Tony Keesing. We attended for interview but for reasons inappropriate to recount here I was disaffected by the prospect before the interview and remained only at Tony’s insistence. There was the added prospect of a drink with him afterwards. His interview followed mine. Unbeknown to me at that time, and not discovered until long after, he had made his application and pitch for the job specifically conditional on my application being first considered – in short he would not accept an appointment unless one were offered to me first. I am not surprised that such an experience has not recurred.

After student days in Wellington, he completed a second degree extramurally through Auckland University, practised in Hamilton then Invercargill, where the first of his children was born. He then established himself in Lower Hutt in partnership with Sid Agar in the firm then known as Bell Gully Agar and Co (which became Agar and Keesing and later Keesing McLeod & Co) and remained there, becoming the leading common law practitioner in Lower Hutt until he transferred to the Crown Law Office a few years ago.

His professional interests were largely concentrated in accident compensation work in the days when such work was a field for lawyers, and he appeared mainly for plaintiffs and with a very high level of success. He ranged through both civil and criminal work but the civil work was his main preoccupation. Anyone who has had a case with Tony Keesing would know at the time that they had a fight on their hands.

With the introduction of Accident Compensation, his interest moved to administrative law, a subject which had compelled his attention since student days and which he then studied as a post-graduate student in London in 1976. It was this field in which he was mainly occupied with Crown Law.

When one looks at his life one cannot help but wonder why he seemed to draw so many short straws; his own indifferent health which only those close to him knew inhibited him throughout his life; the tragic accidental death of his wife Shirley, followed a short time later by the tragic death of his son Ralph; and then his own life cut short when his ability and the product of so much experience might have continued to be available. But of course then there is the credit side; he enjoyed two admirable marriages, is survived by three children of his union with Shirley, with every reason to be proud of all three, and then succeeded through his marriage to Joan to two other adoring stepdaughters. He is survived by his mother Olga, resilient in the face of another adversity, but proud I have no doubt of the achievements of this son.

Many will miss him. Some will shed a tear without showing it. For, alas, he has gone; thank God I knew him well.

By Malcolm Dunphy. 

This tribute was published in LawTalk 241, 18 June 1986, page 2.

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