New Zealand Law Society - Kathleen Anne Stringfellow, 1943 - 2014

Kathleen Anne Stringfellow, 1943 - 2014

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Kathy Stringfellow, who came later than many to the law, was a highly skilled lawyer whose efficiency, integrity and personal warmth attracted life-long clients. She was also a stalwart of the Law Society for many years – on her election as President of the Wellington District Law Society in 1997 she was just the second woman ever elected to that office.

Kathy was born Kathleen Anne Barnett at Kohimarama, Auckland, the second of three children born to Ron and Joan Barnett. Her forebears came from Kent and Warwickshire and the Ngati Huri hapu of Ngati Raukawa.

Around the time she was born, just after Christmas in 1943, her parents moved from a rented house to a caravan on a plot of land in St Heliers. They worked hard to break in the land and established gardens and an orchard to supply fruit and vegetables to the Auckland market. No doubt Kathy learned there many of the habits of hard work and conscientiousness which characterized her work as a lawyer, as well as absorbing the delights of the garden, one of her passions as an adult.

She was a keen and successful student and enjoyed school at St Heliers Primary and Selwyn College. In her teens she was an enthusiastic Girl Guide and became a proficient performer of kapa haka and the long poi to represent New Zealand at an international guide camp in Australia.

With not a lot of money about, Kathy decided to train as a teacher rather than attending university, working in a shoe shop to help pay her way. It was there that she developed an everlasting love for fine shoes, many of which she coordinated with clothes she made from Vogue patterns.

After teachers’ college Kathy taught at Glendowie College for a couple of years while also running a local cub pack and studying towards an ACA, the professional qualification for associate chartered accountants. Late in 1964 she headed off by ship on a typical Kiwi ‘OE’ to London where her commercial skills landed her PA positions to senior executives in insurance and engineering. She met her future husband Barry in London. They married there, and typically for Kathy in some style. Barry describes the wedding as a Kathy production ‘par excellence’. She made her own wedding dress – a French ribbon lace coat over a crepe dress. The wedding cake was made by her mother and iced by the confectioner at the Royal Naval College of Greenwich, with the reception in the Rangers House at Greenwich Park (formerly home of the Earl of Chesterfield) by permission of the Greater London Council, a first at the time.

On return to New Zealand Kathy taught at Wellington East Girls College for five years before returning to England with Barry. Once again they lived in their beloved Greenwich and while Barry was tied up with planning submarine cables, Kathy was able to further pursue her passions for opera, theatre and art and also studied at Elizabeth David’s London School of Cordon Bleu Cookery.

In the mid-1970s the submarine cabling project was completed and the couple returned to Wellington where Kathy taught for a short time at Naenae College.

Deciding a change in career direction was in order, Kathy enrolled at Victoria University where she studied for a law degree and a BA in English and art history. Her first job after graduation was for legal publishers Brooker and Friend as assistant editor on the revision of Anderson’s Company Law, a leading commercial law text at that time. The original author was Harry Anderson of Buddle Anderson Kent & Co and the late Chris Pottinger of the same firm was to be the new writer. Kathy was seconded to Buddle Anderson in 1980 to work with Chris in developing the text. Speaking at the funeral, Wayne Chapman said that Chris Pottinger quickly saw Kathy’s abilities and potential as a lawyer and she joined Buddle Anderson Kent & Co as a staff solicitor in 1981.

“She joined the conveyancing department which in those days was still an important backbone to large practices that were tending to move more into the high level commercial and banking work that was emerging. In August 1982 Buddle Anderson Kent & Co and Findlay Hoggard Richmond & Co merged to become Buddle Findlay… Kathy was an integral part of the [combined conveyancing department] team”.

Kathy’s early training as a conveyancer was overseen by both Chris Pottinger and Wayne Chapman. Wayne: “Kathy was a natural. She was technically and legally skilled at the highest level but she also had that element in her makeup that is so essential for a successful conveyancing practitioner. She had people skills. She related well to her clients and fostered a very real and positive relationship with them all. They loved her. Thus she built up a strong client base that followed her where she went. Many will be bereft following her death.”

Kathy did well at Buddle Findlay and in 1985 was promoted to Associate. However with changing times, partnership prospects there were limited. Helen Cull, then a partner at Tripe Matthews & Feist, had met Kathy in 1985 at Law Society functions, during Law Week that year and through the Women Lawyers Association, and was impressed with her abilities. “Although outwardly quiet and unassuming, Kathy had inner strengths, determination, strong intelligence and was very hard-working.” It was through Helen’s good offices that Kathy was invited to join Tripe Matthews & Feist which she did at the beginning of 1988. During the succeeding 25 years, until a year or so ago, Wayne Chapman says, Kathy “…went from strength to strength and grew, fostered and retained a large and loyal client base”. Many of these clients followed Kathy into her own practice in 2012.

Kathy Stringfellow had another life during this period, as a hard-working member of the Law Society. She was co-opted to the council of the Wellington District Law Society in October 1990 after Marion Frater was appointed a District Court judge.

Wayne Chapman, who was a council member at that time and President in 1994, worked closely with Kathy. “She willingly accepted responsibility for various committees with particular emphasis on finance and education roles. She was a member of the Fidelity Guarantee Fund management committee during the aftermath of Renshaw Edwards. That was a hugely demanding role… Her teaching skills were invaluable in delivering parts of the Flying Start programme and more recently, Stepping Up, she willingly gave the extra time in the weekends that those roles demanded. As a member of the Council’s Audit Committee (later the Financial Assurance Committee) she was involved in sorting out the practice of another Upper Hutt practitioner…”

In 1995 Kathy was elected to the position of Treasurer, became Vice-President the following year and President in 1997. Kathy was only the second woman officer of the Society following Sandra Moran about a decade earlier and just the second woman President of the Wellington District Law Society. “Not unsurprisingly she fulfilled that role with distinction. She went on to serve as a Vice-President and Council member of the New Zealand Law Society.”

Kathy Stringfellow worked hard as a lawyer and had a successful career. She lived a vivid and creative life and cared deeply about her friends. Helen Cull says they had a standing arrangement for lunch most weeks, “…where we discussed the latest gossip in the law profession, the foibles of some, the achievements of others and of course the conversations about shoes… We were both avid followers of the Peter Sheppard shoe catalogue, took trips to Tuscany and enjoyed good food, wine and clothes… Kathy was the expert seamstress, sewing her own clothes to perfection out of beautiful fabrics sourced in England and Italy. She was also an excellent cordon bleu chef.”

Her love of entertaining saw Kathy continuously collect and cook new recipes, sharing these with friends and family. Local favourite, Ruth Pretty’s Springfield, was of particular enjoyment where Kathy and her good friend Elizabeth Brown would master new recipes and enjoy being around other “foodies”.

Former partner at Tripe Matthews & Feist, Alison Douglass, said Kathy was her business partner and instructing solicitor over 25 years. “She was more than that: a friend, a confidante and a rock solid supporter of my legal career and most importantly, my family… My daughter Emma particularly benefited from Kathy’s creative side. Kathy made beautiful dresses for her each birthday. Not many partners in law firms can lay claim to having a business partner that sews their daughter dresses!”

Kathy’s good friend Margaret Nicholls can also attest to Kathy’s passion and talent for sewing. As well as making Margaret’s wedding cake, Kathy sewed Margaret’s wedding dress and her own dress as Margaret’s matron of honour. She later taught Margaret how to sew, sharing her partiality for Vogue sewing patterns and telling her “only Vogue” would do.

Kathy loved reading history, art and the history of art as well as attending opera. She is said to have had an encyclopaedic memory of the royal houses of Europe, and she was an expert guide to the art museums of Europe.

She strongly supported the progress of women in the legal profession. She believed women could do as well as men given the same opportunities.

Helen Cull says Kathy loved being part of the legal profession. “She was a compassionate person who enjoyed being part of a helping profession that engaged directly with real people to resolve their real needs. It was this love and drive which kept Kathy serving the needs of her loyal clients for as long as she was able.”

Kathleen Anne Stringfellow, 30 December 1943 – 11 April 2014.

This obituary was first published in Council Brief, June 2014, page 3.

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