New Zealand Law Society - How giving law a go led to lifetime of service for top triathlete

How giving law a go led to lifetime of service for top triathlete

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After 45 years in legal partnership, plus serving a vast array of community organisations, swimmer and triathlete John Eagles QSM still keeps up ten to 12 hours training a week.

Becoming a partner of New Plymouth firm Govett Quilliam in 1970 and now the firm's senior partner, John shows no sign of slowing down.

John Heywood Ross (John) Eagles
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Otago University 1968, LLM 1969. Admitted 1968. 
Senior partner at Govett Quilliam, New Plymouth. 
Speciality area
Commercial, property, trust and asset protection, local government and regulation, elder law.
John Eagles
John Eagles

This weekend (6 February) he takes to the water for a 5 km competitive swim along New Plymouth's sea front and his sights are on the world masters games in New Zealand in 2017. He has represented New Zealand at the world age group triathlon championships from 2007 to 2010 and again in 2012, as well as swimming in the New Zealand team at the world masters swimming championships in 2004 and 2006.

In a lifetime dedicated to community service John has been chairman, member or trustee of a myriad of organisations including the Govett-Brewster Foundation, Pukeiti Trust Fund, Taranaki Anglican Trust Board, Taranaki Community Rugby Trust, New Plymouth Boys' High School Board, Frankley School Board, Taranaki District Law Society, New Plymouth Opera House Trust Board, New Plymouth North Rotary and is a Rotary Paul Harris fellow.

He has spent time on local and national organisations for the Law Society and School Trustees Association and is a trustee for many private trusts and charitable trusts. He is a director of several private companies and in 2015 was awarded life membership of CCS Disability Action North Taranaki.

Throughout a busy professional and community life John has maintained interests in travel, art, sport, Rotary and family involvement with his wife Karen, four children and six grandchildren.

"I did a reasonable amount of competitive pool swimming when I was younger and about 15 years ago was having dinner with a friend who said I should start swimming again…

"When I said I would go to the pool the next day he thought I had too many glasses of red wine…

"The pool was horrendous … I though I could swim up and down but after 100 metres I was exhausted…

"It became a challenge and now I'm too scared to stop because if I ever wanted to start again I know the agony it would bring…

"I then got into cycling – I'm a hopeless runner – but decided to try triathlons because I had a daughter doing them…

"I found I was reasonable and have been to world champs a few times … In my age group I can come out of the water in the first three or four, not many pass me on the bike but everyone passes me on the run…

"I do three swims, three cycles and three runs a week - usually about 10 to 12 hours a week … It's great from getting out of jobs around home, I say I have to go training…"

One of John's great loves is his and his firm's commitment to promoting arts in New Plymouth through association with the Govett-Brewster Gallery – a contemporary art facility made possible largely by the efforts and generosity of the late Monica Brewster – a descendant of the firm's Govett Family founders.

"I'm no artist and work more on the administration side, but when my wife and I travel we always go to a number of galleries … Contemporary art is sometimes hard to get your head around."

The firm sponsors monthly Monica Brewster evenings with talks from interesting creative characters – "It gives us a bit of intellectual stimulus…"

"Karen and I enjoy travelling and last year we took in a rugby test at Ellis Park and saw the gorillas in Riwanda … We have a son and a couple of grandchildren in England so we go there quite a lot…

"We try to get away every second year … and what I enjoy about travel is that when we land back at Auckland airport I gave thanks that by some little quirk of fate I was born in New Zealand – a wonderful country…

"Apart from keeping up with financial news, share markets and world economics, I'm a holiday reader: John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer are my favourites … and financial mysteries…

"I'm an avid channel flicker, watch sport and prefer old movies – I enjoy old Westerns and prefer Clint Eastwood (Sergio Leone's Dollar series) over John Wayne … I can stop thinking and just watch…

"I'm not musical but enjoy music and am still a Beatles fan, like Rod Stewart and have seen Elton John a couple of times…

"I used to enjoy political current affairs on tv from the days of Brian Edwards but now they have become to personified and make the presenter everything…

"My wife says we must change our older Series 3 BMW but I have had a couple, they are comfortable and good for visiting our farming son in Hawkes Bay and going to our holiday cottage at Taupo."

John's father, a chartered accountant, died when he was nine and there was an expectation from an early age he would take up a profession.

"My older sister went to Otago University and my mother's brother was a lecturer there … When I started university at 16 and got into Knox College my mother thought it would be a nice safe place for her son to be … Little did she know…"

He became embroiled in student politics and served on the student association executive.

"I enjoyed mathematics and I was doing legal system and a bit of economics so I thought I would give this law thing a go…"

With his brother Roger a lawyer in Invercargill and youngest daughter Fiona an in-house lawyer and accomplished triathlete, law continues in the family.

"I used to occasionally look through the NZ Herald for other jobs I could do and got depressed because I could not find anything else…There are not many other jobs I would like to do…

"In law you are dealing with people all the time and meet some wonderful people … What I enjoy now is meeting the next generation of family clients…

"I guess I'm a traditional family lawyer – and I enjoy being one…"

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for most of his career in journalism. Contact Jock at

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