New Zealand Law Society - John Te Manihera Chadwick MNZM, 1945 - 2017

John Te Manihera Chadwick MNZM, 1945 - 2017

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John Chadwick
John Chadwick, 1945-2017.

Many communities, including the legal profession, lost a leader and guiding light with the death of Rotorua lawyer John Chadwick on 26 May 2017.

The last Māori law graduate of the 1960s still in practice, he was the founder of Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa, the Māori Law Society.

“John was a man who was respected by all. He was a lawyer for over forty years and he practised with vision, kindness, compassion, humour and common sense. He was a wonderful orator and a wonderful mentor and role model for young Māori embarking on a career in the law. This is a sad time for Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa and the whole legal profession," New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck said in a tribute.

Born on 6 February 1945, his parents were Te Pura Taputoro Chadwick and Erena Karamaene Hapuku. His whakapapa includes Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāti Uenuku, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rangikoianake and Ngāti Wai o Ngāti Tama. The family had seven children and moved around the central North Island a lot to follow work opportunities, living in places such as Ohakune, Raetihi, Maunganuioteo and Pipiriki before settling in Hawke’s Bay in 1955 at his mother’s whakapapa.

Interviewed in The Family Advocate in 2016 he said his parents were Māori working class, “poor in material possessions but rich in whanaungatanga”. “I suppose I naturally gravitated to the plight of the underdog.”

His mother was a huge influence in his life, recognising his abilities early. “She had a big heart and took in many welfare children: her generosity, her working class spirit, her deep faith and fierce discipline were the touchstones that got these children through. These were attributes which made a significant impression on me and they helped shape my understanding of abandonment, deprivation, the have-nots and manakitanga,” he said.

Victoria University

John attended Wanganui Technical College as a boarder and then Hastings Boys’ High School. He then went to Victoria University to study law, graduating LLB. Another important mentor was Georgina Te Heu Heu, the first Māori woman to graduate in law. “[She] tracked me down at High School and encouraged me to go to Victoria University”.

The only member of his family to attend university, he found himself part of what he later called a “golden wave” of Māori graduates in law coming out of Victoria University in the 60s.

“I arrived at university intending to become a doctor but within 48 hours of arrival I found myself lining up with my mates to enrol in a law degree. The two years of intensive vocational guidance at school went down the gurgler, just like that!”

Around the time he became a lawyer he got married, on 6 December 1968 to Stephanie (Steve) Anne Frizzell who was to become a Labour MP and then Mayor of Rotorua. Steve later revealed that the couple had met while still at school. They had three children – Eli, Hana and Rama – and nine mokopuna.

While still studying he worked for the Customs Department writing legal opinions. After admission as one of a small but growing number of Māori lawyers he went to work for sole practitioner Olive Smuts-Kennedy. A Wellington City Councillor, she only visited the practice once or twice a week to sign things off. “A big learning curve for me,” John Chadwick reflected. She was also an inspirational force in his life: “An early feminist, fearless, confident, challenging, community oriented, the scourge of the old boys’ network, learned witty and amusing. She was a woman after my own heart!”

Off overseas

The young couple were joined by first-born Eli and left New Zealand in 1972 to see the world. First stop was Lae in Papua New Guinea where John worked as a Customs Officer: the only Māori civil servant in colonial New Guinea with a law degree, he later said.

They made their way to London and he got a job with a one-man law firm in the West End. “Most of the firm’s clients were Jewish and many assumed that I was too. This job was a unique experience and an eye-opener for me. My boss deliberately located his offices in the West End so that the postage franking machine could imprint the immortal brand of “W1” on the envelopes to advertise to the clients and the competition that we were in business at the centre of the civilised world.”


With the OE ticked off, John, Steve, Eli and new-born Hana returned to New Zealand in 1975. They headed for Rotorua and on 13 June 1975 John again became a practising New Zealand lawyer.

“We came to Rotorua where I worked for Ken Hingston’s law firm. It was there that I honed my knack for advocacy in all forums having realised I actually had an ability to think on my feet during criminal, civil, family, Māori Land Court and Tribunal hearings. I soon was made a partner and the firm became Hingston and Chadwick. Ken Hingston left in the 80s to become a Māori Land Court Judge and the firm then morphed into Chadwick Bidois when Louis Bidois joined me in partnership to take over all the court work. I abandoned all advocacy work except for family law and Māori land law and became a general practitioner with a wide clientele, particularly Māori. In the 90s Denise Clark joined the partnership and specialised in general court work.”

Many years later, in the 2016 New Year’s Honours, John Chadwick was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori and to the law. The citation stated that he was managing partner of three all-Māori law firms in Rotorua from 1977 as Hingston and Chadwick, 1985 as Chadwick Bidois, and 2002 as Chadwick Law.

“I worked for him, with him and alongside him, but never against him,” former partner  and now District Court Judge Louis Bidois told the Rotorua Daily Post.

“He was a very articulate and intellectual man who believed in what was right. He walked in many spheres, political, legal, cultural and in the community. John had a presence in any setting, he was like the lighthouse, he drew people to him. He dominated conversations and we became very good listeners in the early days, a very funny man, there was no dress code at our firm.

“The only thing we ever argued about was Ngongotaha and Waikite – he was a Koutu man and I was a Ngongotaha man. But, as he said, the colour of their jersey didn’t matter when they walked through the door as clients. He was as comfortable with Joe Bloggs as he was with a chief of any iwi.”

John Chadwick was a busy man in many directions in the 1980s while establishing himself in legal practice. He founded the Te Waiariki Purea Trust in 1987. This has flourished as a not for profit organisation which offers a wide range of youth and family services in the Rotorua, Taupo and Turangi region. The Trust has a Youth Services team, Whanau Support Services team, Okareka Outdoors Centre team and Youth Development team, all providing a diverse range of support for the community. John Chadwick was chair of the Trust for 28 years.

He was co-founder in 1987 and chair for five years of the second Kohanga Reo to be established in New Zealand at Koutu. He was closely involved in the establishment and running of the Tumahaurangi Trust, a kaupapa Maori-driven organisation which is committed to providing training through trades-related educational opportunities. His involvement in the Rotorua Community Law Centre started with its establishment. He served on its board for 16 years. He was involved in many other community organisations and initiatives.

“When I look back at this list over the years it makes me wonder how I managed to fit in a law career and parenthood,” he observed in 2016.

Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa

In 1987 – which must have been an incredibly busy year in the Chadwick family – another of his initiatives set the stage for an important development in the history of the New Zealand legal profession. This was the establishment of Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa, New Zealand Māori Law Society. As founder he was also the first Tumuaki/President, from 1988 to 1991. He was the only person to have been made a Life Member.

Seeing himself as one of the “first golden wave” of Māori law graduates, John Chadwick as usual turned thoughts into action. In a chapter in Law Stories (LexisNexis, 2003), the history of the legal profession from 1969-2003, he described in his inimitable style how the organisation began:

“There was a time when I knew every Māori lawyer in practice in this country, that’s how few there were in the 1970s. (I added the words ‘in practice’ to distinguish the real ones from those who revel in the description of Māori lawyer purely on account of having scored a law degree.) We did a tally-up a couple of years ago and there were something like 800 out there beavering away at the coalface. To show how much times have changed, some of them call me Uncle.

“In 1979 Hemi Rapata, Jim Rota, and Manu Rogers set up the ‘Brown Bar’ in Auckland to strut their stuff. Their mentor was Uncle Mick Brown, and he had his work cut out. At the New Zealand Law Conference in Christchurch in 1987 a group of us had a dawnbreaker and that resulted in the formation of the Māori Law Society the following year in Rotorua.”

Sole Practice

Louis Bidois and Denise Clark were both appointed to the judiciary on 2001 and 2002 and the firm became a sole practice, Chadwick Law.

"I had become one of a dwindling band of all-round general practitioners who had avoided the trend into specialisation," he told The Family Advocate in 2016. "I kept up my lawyer for child work and maintained a general practice. To mix things up a bit, I also did the odd jury trial which was work I really enjoyed. With three former partners (all Māori) being elevated to the bench, I think I was being acknowledged as the greatest trainer of judges in New Zealand history with a strike rate of 100%.This might look good on my CV but the pay is lousy!"

As a family lawyer he was closely involved with the New Zealand Law Society's Family Law Section. He was a member of the Section executive for many years, and a keen participant in its activities.

"John Chadwick is a legend both in Rotorua and throughout New Zealand. Fondly known as Chad to all and sundry he has made a massive contribution to our community and the legal profession. Younger counsel defer to him for his expert advice which is always willingly given with a roguish sense of humour and most of all, a lifetime of incredible experiences," the Family Law Section said of him in its 2016 tribute.

Significant contribution

Following news of his passing, Minister of Māori Development and Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell paid tribute to the significant contribution of "one of Rotorua's leading lights".

"John was a staunch advocate for our rangatahi, in and out of the courtroom, and he mentored generations of Māori lawyers and other community professionals who beat a path to his door - to revel in his knowledge, to be regaled by his endless stories, and to be enraptured with his notorious wit and one liners.

"With a sharp tongue and even sharper mind, John could articulate a point of view with a style that very few possess. Because of these innate qualities, his submissions, whether in front of the judge or during the oral hearings on the proposed Te Arawa Partnership model, were legendary, and his influence will be carved in to the memories of those who were privileged to see him in full flight, for years to come."

Rotorua barrister and former New Zealand Law Society President Jonathan Temm says John Chadwick was a prominent legal figure on the Rotorua landscape for over 40 years.

"Chad was a unique legal figure. His colourful shirts and apparent casual approach to legal practice belied a genuine interest in people and their problems. He worked hard for those he was asked to help and many achieved long lasting benefits from his counsel and support.

"John epitomised the local community, provincial lawyer. Money or personal wealth were never his gods. He was down to earth, alreadys ready with word of encouragement and a laugh. He walked easily in all worlds and he worked hard at so many tasks that one genuinely wonders where he found the energy. He was an example of someone who worked for his iwi and community beyond any thought for self. We can all take something from his example."

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox said John Chadwick's selfless service for which he never sought recognition was one of the many reasons she was so proud to promote him through the Honours nomination process before he received the New Zealand Order of Merit.

"To this trailblazing son of Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāti Wai o Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Tama,  Ngāti Whatuiapiti and Ngāti Rangikoianake, we tip our hats to this special person who was a gentleman and a scholar; a fierce advocate and supporter; and a man greatly loved by his whānau."

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