Auckland barrister Geoff Harrison died on 8 March, aged 63.
His legal career followed a different path to that of his brother, retired Court of Appeal Judge Rhys Harrison.
Geoff Harrison was admitted to the bar in 1983, on completion of his law studies at Auckland University.
Since 1992, he had been a barrister sole at Southern Cross Chambers specialising in family law. He had been on the Lawyer for Child approved list, with Family Courts throughout the Auckland area, since 1986. Mr Harrison was also a contributing writer for Fisher on Matrimonial Property (LexisNexis 3rd edition). It is considered the most authoritative and extensive publication ever written on this subject.
It’s apparent that Geoff Harrison had an empathetic manner with his many clients in this area of law. Some of the tributes provided to the New Zealand Herald notices speak volumes about his warm and engaging character.
“My best and only lawyer turned into an unbelievable friend. You held my hand during the worst time of my life and got the best ever results. You were such a nice and noble human-being.”
“Geoff taught me how to be kind, not through his words, but through his actions.”
“I wouldn't be where I am today without you in my corner, I will never ever forget your kind and generous spirit and how much you did for me in my hour of need.”
Geoff Harrison was passionate about his work, particularly Lawyer for Child. He was also a charitable man and at his funeral, people were encouraged to donate to his favourite cause, the Women’s Refuge.
Southern Cross Chambers barrister Andrew Gilchrist knew Geoff Harrison for nearly 30 years, and they were colleagues in Chambers for 19 years of those years.
“It was a huge shock to all of us in Chambers. He had gone into hospital for what we thought was a relatively routine operation and regrettably he never came out of hospital. He had been unwell about a year before that, but none of us saw this coming,” he says.
Mr Gilchrist describes Geoff Harrison as a great communicator and a people person to the core.
“He was a wonderfully caring person. He had a wicked sense of humour, a great smile and he really cared about the people around him. He was a great colleague and always willing to share his views or discuss legal issues or other matters. In his personal life, he was a great lover of films and music. He had a really keen ear. He was a little idiosyncratic but then most people are, he was a real character,” Mr Gilchrist says.
Geoff Harrison has two daughters, one of whom works in advertising and the other is studying law in Melbourne.
The New Zealand Herald notice describes Mr Harrison as “Champion of the Underdog and a Beach Boys super fan.”
He was also equally a major Steely Dan fan and like many avid music lovers, he mourned the loss of Walter Becker when the guitarist died last year.
Mr Gilchrist, who spoke at the funeral says there were many sincere and memorable tributes at the farewell which attracted about 300 people.
“There was one story by one of his daughters which recalled the time Geoff introduced her to a Judge. It was with great reverence, but then when he introduced the same daughter to a supermarket owner, it was with that same great reverence. Geoff treated everyone the same,” he says.
Most parents of children have been to their share of school musicals and plays where the very young children tend to sing or recite their lines in the same awkward high pitch. Often parents will keep their honest assessment to themselves.
Mr Gilchrist says another amusing story recalled by one of his daughters at the funeral referred to her father’s tongue and cheek honesty in relation to one of those school performance situations.
In this case, it was a play.
“She said she knew when she was about 8 years old that her father was a little different. He attended a school play and afterwards sat her down and said with the wit he was renowned for that the play was truly awful and that he was never coming to one again,” Mr Gilchrist says.
For Andrew Gilchrist, he told a story of when he first joined Southern Cross Chambers and was given some encouragement by Geoff Harrison, that he has never forgotten.
“I had the usual discussion that most people going to the bar have. Is there going to be any work and will my family ever eat again? Not only was he positive, assuring and supportive, but he got out his cash book and financial accounts from the past two years and said, have a look at these and this is what you do. I found it personally very generous as at that stage he was a person I didn’t know that well. That’s the sort of person Geoff was, very kind, very giving,” he says.
Geoff Harrison’s funeral was held on Friday, 16 March at the Maritime Room in Auckland.