New Zealand Law Society - Lyndsay Mason Papps CMG, 1919 - 2000

Lyndsay Mason Papps CMG, 1919 - 2000

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Lyn Papps died at Waikanae on 22 August 2000 aged 80 years. Cruelly affected by a stroke in his later years, he had been out of the profession and off the commercial scene for a decade. While his passing has commanded obituaries in the major newspapers, it is hard to do justice to the man who was the giant of commercial law of his time.

He was the son of "Pogie" Papps, the much respected and feared Latin master and deputy headmaster of New Plymouth Boys' High School. Attending the same school, Lyn had a distinguished school record – twice dux and captain of both the First XI and First XV.

His life was changed, like so many of his generation, by the war. He served five years in the Pacific, most of it as a navigator in the RNZAF.

He then came to law not as his first career choice. His time at Victoria University of Wellington having been interrupted by that military service, he returned to gain an LLB and later LLM, arriving at Bell Gully in 1947, and becoming a partner in 1955.

He must have been busy from the start. By the mid 1950s he had taken over responsibility for administration of the office, was lecturing in evidence at Victoria University, and was making his name in commercial work. This latter included being the author for the New Zealand edition of the great English text Palmer on Company Law. The reason for the New Zealand work was that the then new Companies Act 1955 (NZ) had as its prototype the Companies Act 1948 (UK); which itself had led to the 19th edition of Palmer. The New Zealand Palmer remained useful right up until the raft of amendments to the Companies Act in the early 1980s so much changed the legislative landscape.

One might note along the way that the person we remember as the complete company director once did do litigation, and his name is in the law reports as evidence. In Murphy v Gardiner [1951] NZLR 549 he faced an appeal by a seaman deserter arguing that the Magna Carta operated to overwhelm the effect of the Shipping and Seamen's Act 1908. Papps won.

By the 1960s he was well established as a figure on the commercial scene – collecting clients and directorships – and being an integral part of the building of the modern Bell Gully. He was one of the 1966 Taxation Review Committee (chaired by the late Sir Lewis Ross), and in the 1970s a member of the Company Law Advisory Committee and then the Securities Commission.

He became the senior partner in the merged Bell Gully Buddle Weir from 1984, stepping down to become a consultant three years later.

It was said that he had a listed company chairmanship for every day of the week, and a mere directorship for each of the other days of the month. If you count not five but seven days to each work week, then this was getting close. These companies included the heavyweights: ANZ Bank (and its Australian parent board), Dalgety Pastoral, NZ Motor Corporation, the first NZ Railways Corporation, and UEB.

This writer can recall more than a few occasions thinking that he was up early only to find that "LMP" was even earlier – or flying to Auckland on the first flight on a weekend morning with a university team only to meet Papps also on his way – he suited and looking alert as we were not.

How much sharper was he on a week day? Many found out. One of the stories (or legends?) tells of Papps attending a commercial negotiation for a client, only to be contacted afterwards by the party on the other side asking if he would take on their legal work.

In some ways he was both ahead and behind the times. He was the pre-eminent company director of his time. Years ago he was already succeeding at what so much of the advice-giving professions have difficulty coming to grips with – that you are not just a profession but a business. He wasn't really a lawyer but a businessman. Yet, the New Zealand economy of today just could not digest the conflicts that would arise from one person holding all those directorships. That may tell us something about the sort of "managed" economy we had then. And, that the extent of his influence is not likely to be seen again.

While he was senior partner at Bell Gully, the firm took on its first woman member of the legal staff (in 1968) and then a second (in 1977). This was followed 20 years ago by the start of the great wave of change as woman law graduates came to prominence and then numerical dominance in law schools' graduating classes.

Yet, he took active part in that ancient ritual of Bell Gully life – the cricket match, tearing an Achilles tendon at an age when perhaps he should have been on the boundary cheering.

He was conscientious about staff – employees of companies of which he was chairman would talk of how Mr Papps had attended their annual staff picnic or Christmas party. He could put names to faces, knew who spouses and children were, and what was on the minds of that company's staff at that location. Like even the best politicians he had to work at this, which just goes to show what determination he had that these things counted and he would master them. His approach to what many people see as a minor matter aptly summarises the determined way he attacked everything he did.

He is a great loss to the profession, to New Zealand business, and to his wife Ailsa, sons Gerald and Roger, daughters-in-law Hillary and Christine, and his seven grandchildren.

This was first published on page 6 of the October 2000 issue of Council Brief, the monthly newsletter of Wellington District Law Society.

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