By Jock Anderson
- Gregory John (Greg or Gregory) Shanahan
- Wellington, grandson of Arrowtown constable Tom Shanahan and son of pioneering New Zealand diplomat Foss Shanahan.
- Entry to law
- Graduated LLM with honours from Victoria University of Wellington. Admitted in 1973.
- Director of Anderson Creagh Lai, Auckland.
- Specialist areas
- Commercial property acquisition, leasing and disposal. Local and international projects and developments - particularly hotels.
As a son of a diplomat living in a suite on the 34th floor of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Gregory Shanahan’s love of chocolate cake and milk quickly earned him the nick-name “The Blob on 34.”
Often dispatched to watch television, the ten-year-old became well-known for phoning down for his favourite snacks.
Being of a diplomatic household also gave him his first taste of law, diplomacy and what became a lifelong love of the arts, classical music and the theatre, including seeing Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.
A devout Catholic lawyer, Papal Knight, Honorary Consul-General for the Czech Republic, a painter, sculptor and New Zealand art collector, he has lived a full and rewarding life.
His art collection includes works by Maud Burge, Colin McCahon, Frances Hodgkins, Gretchen Albrecht and John Weeks and he’s a lifetime member of the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra.
His fund-raising efforts to establish Sacred Heart Cathedral in Wellington, restore St John the Baptist Church in Parnell and later the $13 million restoration of Auckland’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, were rewarded in 2007 when Pope Benedict made him a Papal Knight – the rare and highest honour the Catholic Church may confer on a lay person.
“I was invited to have lunch with the bishop after Sunday Mass. I always wear a jacket and tie but didn’t wear a tie that day – I don’t know why.
“At the church I felt something was up, there were family and other people there I did not expect, then I was ushered up to the front and it was all on.
“It will always be a very special moment for me.”
Alister McIntosh and Gregory’s father Foss Shanahan established New Zealand’s foreign affairs department after World War 2. Foss died in 1964 aged 54 when Gregory was in the fifth form.
“They were among the first government mandarins.”
A character in his own right, Foss was assistant secretary to the war cabinet, deputy secretary of external affairs, secretary of the cabinet and head of the defence secretariat.
Foss served as High Commissioner to Singapore and Malaya, Ambassador to Thailand, High Commissioner to Canada and from 1958 to 1962 was permanent representative to the United Nations.
“The family moved around a lot. We lived in Raffles Hotel in Singapore for a while and it was not as glamorous then as it is today…”.
A keen clay target shooter, Gregory’s love of shooting began in the third form during military training at Hutt Valley’s Silverstream College, where boys learned how to safely use .303 rifles, Sten guns, Bren guns and mortars.
Part of an undisciplined ragtag bunch – “a hairy ugly group who would get nowhere in cadets” – he found himself as a sixth former training as a possible officer candidate for the army.
His school was horrified at the prospect.
“It was much the same as when Andy Haden said he’d rather play a man short than have ‘him’ in the team. I should not have been allowed on the course, but passed and became school battalion commander.”
Through his father’s career and influence, Gregory felt compelled to do law and was admitted in 1973, after specialising in international law.
His marriage to Vlasta – whose parents left Czechoslovakia after World War 2 and came to New Zealand in 1959 after a spell in India – sparked an interest in helping Czechs and others from similar backgrounds who settled here.
He twice turned down the post of Honorary Consul before being appointed in 2001 and was made the Czech Republic’s Honorary Consul-General this year.
Before setting up Shanahan Partners in Auckland in 1975 with his older brother Michael to specialise in commercial and property based work, he cut his legal teeth with Rainey Collins in Wellington – where one of his jobs was to sit on the Court of Appeal press bench and prepare reports for the New Zealand Press Association.
He joined Anderson Creagh Lai as a director in 2010.
A stalwart of an annual Catholic boys’ fishing weekend at Turangi, Gregory prefers to “enjoy the fruits of their labours” rather than his own fishing efforts.
In a case which still stands out in his mind, he acted for a major port company that wanted remediation from an oil company.
His advice was the case, “which grew and grew”, would be difficult and unlikely to succeed at court.
“Experts were called in from all over the world … the money spent on it was shameful…”.
“A week before trial the client’s favourite barrister – who said they had no show - and I, urged both sides to go play golf and sort out a deal.
“We went to court and lost. What I felt was the regret that the advice given up front was not accepted at the time, and the parties, rather than face up to sound advice, would rather litigate.
“The memory is not about losing or winning a case, but the failure to get the client to accept they had a problem, they had to deal with it and litigating was not going to be the successful way.
“I’ve also learned that if you don’t know the answer say so, say you will find out or get the right person to give advice to the client. The best interests of the client is to send them to the best person who can give them right advice.
“As my mother would say - if you put your bread on the water it will come back ham sandwiches.”
He says young people coming into law have a positive future, fantastic opportunities and huge technical resources, along with opportunities to give back something to society.
“Many lawyers work pro bono on charitable trusts, there are many unsung heroes without recognition…”.
Gregory and Vlasta Shanahan had their first date on 8 May 1969 and they have been “going out ever since”. They have four children, one of whom died ten years ago, and nine grandchildren.
“I am very blessed…”.
“One of the greatest gifts we have in this life is our time. For those of us who want to do something with our time the last thing we want to do is waste it…”.
Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at email@example.com.