By Nigel McFadden
David Gordon Phillips, a long serving practitioner, died in Nelson on 26 May 2012 aged 63. David was Australian by birth and took his degrees in history and law at Adelaide University.
David came to New Zealand around 1972 in pursuit of his interest in Indian spirituality. When he first arrived he had only just returned from an ashram in India and his only clothing consisted of a white dhoti (long Indian shirt) and matching cotton trousers. All his worldly goods were carried in a wicker basket.
David went in search of work and eventually ended up at WINZ. When interviewed by the man behind the desk he was told “If you want a job, you can have mine – I am leaving” and David thereby became a WINZ officer. Subsequently he met an employee of the Ombudsman’s office who offered him a job and for some years he had the position of Investigating Solicitor of that office. David did not leave it there; when he saw an opportunity to move to Nelson to become District Land Registrar and Registrar of Companies he seized the opportunity (thus off came the dhoti and so on went the suit) and held that position for many years until he moved into private practice and subsequently became a founding partner of the Nelson legal firm McFadden McMeeken Phillips.
David was a highly intelligent man with a huge heart and with both desire and ability to give as much as he could, not only to his clientele but also to his fellow practitioners and anyone else who he perceived to be in need. David was deeply respected by his clients – he was a skilled lawyer with an endearing way about him, and he respected them equally.
At his remembrance service many people took the opportunity to speak about the ways and times in which David had touched their lives. One story that summed David up came from a young woman who owned a coffee bar in Nelson (David was a three or four espresso a day man). She told David that she was having trouble with the business and thought it might have to be closed down. David not only offered legal services pro bono to her, he also wrote out a personal cheque to the young woman with the advice that she could pay it back when and if she chose – but in the meantime, she could regard it as the biggest prepaid coffee tab she would ever have.
From the perspective of David’s partners, he was a safe pair of hands. David just knew when any of his partners or, for that matter, anyone in the office needed help, he would put aside whatever he was doing, take up the job, deal with it and go back to what he was doing in the first place. There are many Nelson practitioners who benefited similarly. If they had a problem which needed to be dealt with, David would take it on and in his calm, gentle and considerate way find a solution.
David was a man who it was a pleasure and a privilege to walk beside: never a cross word, never a grumble or a groan. He just go on with what he did and he did it well.
David was very keen on trekking. Each December he and his wife Linda would go to Mexico/Central America where they met up with long-term friends, walked, soaked up the culture and engaged in an at-source investigation of the Mayan and Aztec civilisations in which David and Linda held a long-term interest.
Last November David had difficulties with his speech, but he felt that when returned from his Mexico/Central America trip he would be back on deck. Unfortunately that was not to be. David’s health deteriorated over January and February 2012 and he decided he would retire. Even then he refused to stop work until 31 March 2012 as he was determined that no partner should leave the firm before the end of the financial year.
Unfortunately David’s health did not improve and he was hospitalised on 25 May and passed away on 26 May 2012.
David’s family and his partners wanted to provide a memorial for him. His daughters made the suggestion that fruit trees be planted alongside the local Nelson walking tracks of which David was so fond. “That way people can pluck and eat as they walk – that is a good memorial for Dad – he can keep on giving just as he has always done,” said one daughter.
With the help of the Nelson City Council and its contractors Nelmac, a public planting day was held on Father’s Day, 2 September 2012, and with considerable public support 100 fruit trees of assorted varieties were planted at Branford Park in David’s memory.
David is survived by his wife Linda, daughters Toshi, Tara, and June, son Tim and grandchildren Merlin, Phoenix, Ariana and Oliver. David will be hugely missed in his community – and by his profession. David exemplified everything a good practitioner should be, and the profession is worse off for his loss.