When John Corry moved his young family to Taupo in the mid-1950s, the town was a day’s drive over shingle roads from Napier, the streets were “paved” with pumice, and clients would often ride on horseback to the old cottage where he practised law. On one occasion, he arrived to find a group of waiting punters burning palings from the picket fence to ward off the winter chill. One less place to hitch the horses, he would later recall, though at least the verandah was spared the bonfire.
Mr Corry was 25 and a newly appointed partner at Napier lawyers RH Le Pine and Co when he started travelling to Taupo to do court work for the local branch office in 1953. When the resident partner retired back to Napier two years later, Mr Corry moved with his wife, Marie, and their two children – the first in an eventual brood of 10 – to become the town’s only fulltime lawyer.
At the time, Taupo was a frontier settlement, population about 1500, with few amenities and blessed with electricity only the year before. But it was also on the cusp of the forestry and resort booms that would see it thrive, and Mr Corry, attracted by the natural beauty of the lake and mountains and the edgy Wild West feel of the town, had the pioneering instinct to see its potential and, with Marie, the adventurous spirit to give it a go.
John Corry was born in Wellington on 20 April 1928 and educated at St Patrick’s College Silverstream where he was dux in 1945.
His son, Bede, said Mr Corry had a burning ambition to be a fighter pilot, but, when World War II ended, he turned his mind to becoming a teacher. He ended up studying law instead after school friend Richard Hampson convinced him it might be fun.
While at Victoria University, he took a part-time job at the State Advances Corporation, where he met Marie Gordon, also a law student. Their first date was to a movie and a milkbar, an outing Mr Corry deemed so successful he suggested another for that very same day.
It was the start of a partnership that would define Mr Corry’s life more than anything else. Together, the couple had five sons and five daughters, although tragedy struck when the first-born, Philip, died at the aged of 14 after suffering an asthma attack at Silverstream in 1967.
Mr Corry’s early practice in Taupo was varied, to say the least. His duties included driving convicted prisoners, accompanied by a police escort, to the jail at Hautu, near Turangi. After two years he asked Mr Hampton to join him and the old friends set about building up the practice in often surreal conditions. As Mr Hampson’s room could only be entered through Mr Corry’s, he had to exit through his window if he wanted to leave his office when Mr Corry had a client. But the practice prospered, and in the early 1960s, it became the separate and independent firm Le Pine and Co.
In 1969, Mr Corry took an appointment as a magistrate in Hong Kong, moving with Mrs Corry and those children not in boarding school. When the family returned in 1972, Mr Corry began farming at Atiamuri, continuing to practise law part time. The Corrys moved back into town when Mr Corry returned to Le Pine and Co as a consultant.
By this time, he was considered public property by his clients, who thought nothing of phoning him at all hours for advice. Although he worked across the spectrum, he specialised in the complex field of Maori land law and the Maori Land Court, representing Maori groups and becoming a recognised expert.
He was first and foremost, however, a family man. Mr and Mrs Corry had a solid marriage, described by Bede Corry as a partnership of equals. As the clan grew, he would come home from work in the afternoons to help her with the children before returning to the office.
He instilled the importance of education, travel, adventure and family in his children, drawing on the impressive knowledge he had of the Corry family history. He could recount an English whakapapa going back 250 years and, Bede Corry said, was the custodian of the “archives and artifacts that embody that heritage”.
Some of that is also the history of New Zealand. In July 2002, Mr Corry presented Hawke’s Bay Museum with a tokotoko (carved stick) which recalls the founding of Napier. The tokotoko was carved by high-ranking Maori chief Wiremu Tipuna and given to Mr Corry’s great-grandfather – also John Corry – in 1857.
John Corry Snr helped Wiremu Tipuna, a close friend, negotiate the sale of the Napier site and ensured the money the Crown owed Maori was paid. The tokotoko was given as protection for the settler and his descendants.
It was a notable event, given Mr Corry’s pursuit of justice and extensive legal work on behalf of Maori more than a century later. When he presented the tokotoko to the museum, he made provision for the family to borrow it back for important occasions. “Maybe they’ll wave it round at my funeral,” he joked.
It was carried into the church in front of his coffin, and rested upon it during the service on June 16, 2011.
By Martin Kay.
This obituary was published in the Dominion Post on 2 July 2011 and is reproduced courtesy of the Dominion Post.