New Zealand Law Society - Garth Hamilton Gould, 1929 - 2015

Garth Hamilton Gould, 1929 - 2015

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Garth Gould died on 10 August 2015 at the age of 86. He had been present at a dinner for my own eightieth birthday and was in fine form, dying unexpectedly several days later.

Garth will be remembered by many older practitioners as a first-rate lawyer with a keen mind and constant charm. He began as a law clerk to Wynn Williams & Co, in the days of Terence Gresson and Alan Reed. He was recruited to Lane Neave & Wanklyn to take over the work of Endell Wanklyn when the latter died. I began work as a law clerk in the same firm 61 years ago, and for my five years with the firm worked — if you could call it that — mainly for Garth, then the junior partner. He was the best of mentors, demonstrating strict principles allied with a cheerful working environment.

During this period Garth, still single, built his first house at Halswell and employed Bill Unwin, Wyn Raymond and me as casual labourers in the garden which he was forming. I was let go after the first day, but the greater strength or work ethic of the others kept them in work for much longer.

Although mainly a family and commercial solicitor, he was often in the Supreme Court in his early years, as a very sharp counsel. Indeed he took part in one appeal to the Privy Council, where he found Sir Garfield Barwick rearranging the list to accommodate his many cases.

He was a great man for detail — when after being admitted I took some months to go to Europe with Colin Averill, I received a letter from him addressed to me (as J. Fyfe Burn as he always did) at the ANZ Bank in Albemarle Street.

It began: "You will open this letter under the pale blue fluted ceiling of the ANZ Bank..." and I looked up to see that he was entirely accurate. Garth replaced me with John Brown when I went to the UK, but on my return was too polite to dispose of either of us, so for several months we shared a room and ran to be the first to secure any letter that came our way.

With a lack of gratitude, we then left the following year almost at the same time. Garth remained a close friend to me for the rest of his life. When I was living in Sydney in later years, his letters, and occasional visits, were brimming with legal gossip from the Garden City.

When Lane Neave began to merge with other firms, Garth did not share the plan for growth, and left to join Meares Williams, taking most of his North Canterbury clients with him. There he built a significant practice, with young lawyers like Terry Sissons and Ben Tothill under his wings.

His great friend was Peter Mahon, whom he persuaded to become the first barrister sole in the city since the thirties (I was the second, but with a much more lowly practice). They had the same intense sense of humour, and I have more than one memory of them both on the footpath in Hereford Street, doubled over and spluttering as the same comic thought struck them. These were the days when all Law Society members knew one another — conveyancers trotting to each other's offices for settlements, and litigators seeing each other in court every day.

The morning coffee meetings in Hereford Street were the high point of the day, with no Christchurch reputation protected, and when partners of mine asked me from time to time why I always attended, I said that I could not afford to be absent. Garth and Peter used to lunch with Don Matson in a cramped cafe in Cashel Street, and while I was rarely with them, Peter used to say that while they were hemmed in with prams and noisy mothers, Garth simply munched on, repeating that this was the cheapest lunch available in town.

Always well known among the well-bred young ladies of Christchurch, he eventually met Liz, a charming young Scottish girl, and their marriage was constantly happy, with children and grandchildren who spoke at his funeral. His continual pretense that he was firmly under her thumb was never believed by any of us. When he built a second house at Halswell, his illegal use of gelignite to clear the site once brought a rock down on to the roof of the local policeman's house. By then he had persuaded Peter Mahon into building next door, and I assume his advice might have been helpful, although I would not put money on that.

Garth was a man of great charm and good humour, and although it was often hard to pierce his outer shell, a better friend could not be found. His wit and courtesy will not be forgotten and a number of us still around owe him considerably for the kindness he always showed.

This obituary was first published in Canterbury Tales, September 2015.

Garth Gould was born in Christchurch on 8 January 1929. He was educated at Christ's College and then Canterbury University College, graduating LLB. He married Elisabeth Chiene in 1962 and the couple had three children, Sarah, Peter, and Amanda.

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