Former Nelson Harbour Board chairman Ron Fletcher, who died in Nelson on 17 February 2013 aged 77, was a second-generation Nelson lawyer who saw two more generations of his family go into law.
Apart from his time at Victoria University Mr Fletcher lived his entire life in Nelson and his three children – lawyers Belinda and Hamish and real estate agent Caroline – have all also remained in the city. His eldest grandson Jack is currently studying law, also at Victoria.
Born in Nelson on 18 June 1935, Mr Fletcher attended Auckland Point School and Nelson College, where he won a number of speaking awards and cross-country medals. He left for Wellington on the passenger ship Ngaio in 1951 as a 16-year-old, combining his studies with fulltime work in two legal firms and qualifying with a law degree in 1957. While in Wellington he met and courted his wife Jenny.
He was admitted to the bar in 1958 at a Supreme Court ceremony in the Nelson Courthouse and then began his 40 years with his father’s firm, Fletcher and Moore, later Fletcher Vautier Moore. His last 10 years were spent with his son’s practice Hamish Fletcher Lawyers, and he continued to carry out legal work right up until his final days.
A famous incident from his early years was when he went to Okaramio near Blenheim to serve divorce documents on a local farmer. Upon the door opening the farmer grabbed a shotgun and held it to Mr Fletcher’s chest and demanded he leave the property. He continued to serve the papers.
The Marlborough Express reported that the farmer was charged with presenting a firearm at Nelson solicitor Ronald Fletcher and was fined by the magistrate £10 ($20) with £4-10 shillings ($9) in costs. The magistrate commented ‘‘that the evidence showed a considerable domestic discord and bad blood between the divorcing husband and wife’’.
For much of his life Mr Fletcher lived overlooking Tasman Bay. He had a lifelong interest in ships, boats, the sea and the port, and was harbour board chairman from 1981 until 1986, having previously served as a board member and deputy chairman. He oversaw some major developments at the port and was proud that he and Mrs Fletcher were able to travel to Japan for the handover of the tug Huria Matenga to the board in 1983. He had been pivotal in working out the special deal which enabled the port to acquire the four-month-old tug – still the port company’s biggest vessel – in spite of government resistance.
He also served for many years on the Nelson District Law Society Council, both as a member and President, and was one of the founding members of the Nelson Squash Club.
In his legal work he served several generations of some families, and developed particularly strong links with Nelson’s Italian community, many members of which were market gardeners. His children recall that he would always return from a work visit to the Wood with ‘‘a long wooden box of tomatoes’’, and maintained that the best weddings were the Italian ones.
Hamish Fletcher said his father was always businesslike, with the law in his blood, but was able to combine that with a gentleness that made him special. His clients became his extended family.
‘‘He felt a huge responsibility to ensure they were protected.’’
Former legal partner and friend for 40 years Warwick Heal said Mr Fletcher was a strong character who had a good understanding of the law and fused it with common sense.
‘‘You always knew where you stood with him – which was a good thing. He was a credit to the law, a good honest trader, and he had a humanity about him as well.’’
In her tribute at his funeral in Nelson’s Christ Church cathedral, his daughter Caroline said that in recent years Mr Fletcher, a keen boatie, had come to relish his time sitting out on the deck of the treasured family bach in the Marlborough Sounds, where he could look out at the craft anchored in the bay and the diverse bird life.
‘‘Late last week as if they knew Dad may not return, ten mighty wood pigeons flew in one at a time to the willow on the stream and then did an astonishing final fly by en masse, as if to say goodbye.’’
The cathedral was full and a guard of honour from Nelson College performed a spirited haka as Mr Fletcher’s body was carried to the hearse.
Mr Fletcher is survived by his wife Jenny, daughters Belinda and Caroline, and son Hamish, all of Nelson.
This obituary was originally published in the Nelson Mail and is reproduced with permission of the Nelson Mail.