New Zealand Law Society - Angela Jane Satterthwaite, 1936 - 2000

Angela Jane Satterthwaite, 1936 - 2000

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On 30 December 2000 we lost a colleague who held senior positions in private practice, commerce, and government, in the course of a distinguished career.

The first part of Angela Satterthwaite's life was in Christchurch. She was educated at Rangiruru School, and later at the University of Canterbury. She was an outstanding scholar, sitting school certificate while her contemporaries were completing their third form. During those years Angela was an active and very capable horsewoman, competing with distinction.

When Angela completed her law degree [in 1961] she was one of only two women to do so at the time. A sartorial squabble was set off at their admission when the court registrar and staff spent four hours trying to determine what dress was appropriate for the women. At that time, no woman had been admitted in Canterbury for a decade and no one could remember what the last one wore!

Angela spent the initial part of her career in private practice, first in Christchurch where her quick mind and exacting standards were soon evident. Throughout her career Angela was utterly resolute about one thing: there was only one way of doing things – properly. After some years in Christchurch Angela moved to Wellington, initially joining Chapman Tripp. She was later a partner with Stone Kurts & Co. During her time in private practice Angela undertook a range of complex commercial work, being widely respected for her competence and reliability.

Later Angela was the senior lawyer with the Development Finance Corporation (many years prior to the Corporation's demise) and in that role undertook a wide range of financial transactions, including many complex international transactions such as with the World Bank.

During the lasts two decades of Angela's career she was a senior legal officer in the Inland Revenue Department. During her time with the department she had a number of roles including being head of the Legal Services Division, and Counsel to the Commissioner. In the latter role she provided advice and management input in relation to strategic issues. During this time Angela was a key adviser in respect of virtually all the major legal issues the department dealt with.

One of the issues was what became known as the "Winebox" saga. Throughout that time her approach was that nothing should be assumed, and everything should be dealt with "properly". During the subsequent inquiry many critics suggested that the answers were so obvious that thoroughness and caution were unnecessary. The litigation dealing with whether the "winebox" transactions result in tax liability for the companies involved is still in progress. In the first case dealing with the type of transaction that involves the great majority of the money, the High Court has ruled that the taxpayer is not liable to pay tax. Whatever the final outcome of the appeal process, Angela's approach of dealing with everything "properly", rather than making assumptions, has been unequivocally vindicated.

Angela was more than a competent practitioner; she was unquestionably one of the law's characters. The insistence on doing things properly was enforced, if necessary, with an iron rod. One of our colleagues (who both does things "properly", and enjoyed Angela's confidence – which was by no means universal) recalls Angela locking her in her room until a task was completed and approved. News soon spread (the telephone remained operational). Another colleague raised concerns about the health and safety implications, and was contemplating raising her concerns. There was no doubt that had she raised her concerns with Angela there might have been health and safety issues – and they would not have been directed towards the person locked in the room.

I first met Angela when she was the head of Inland Revenue's Legal Division. At the time I worked in the Crown Law Office and I did some cases for the IRD. The first case went well. The next batch of four or five involved mixed success. Not long after, Angela phoned, inquiring politely, but very thoroughly, what had happened. I worked out very quickly that it involved a lot less work to get a pass mark from Angela before the case, than explain what went wrong after the case. Angela maintained a close and personal interest in the litigation undertaken during her years with Inland Revenue. She was a familiar figure at the office of the Solicitor-General. On the occasions when the Solicitor-General represented the Commissioner he too was left in no doubt about the need to obtain a "pass mark" from Angela.

Angela always took a great interest in the profession and colleagues. While there were many things in the profession that occurred over the years, which have been a matter for regret, an area of advancement in which Angela took a lot of satisfaction is the increasing role that women have played in the profession. Milestones such as the appointment of the first woman as a judge of the District Court, the first women to take silk, the first woman to be a High Court Judge, and the first woman to be the Attorney-General were all noted with interest and a quiet satisfaction. Much of that satisfaction was because the milestones were achieved on merit. Angela was of course aware that achieving gender equity is an ongoing process, but much has changed for the better since she began her legal studies.

While Angela's career was mainly concerned with the complexities of commercial and tax law, she never lost sight of achieving justice for individuals. Angela was frequently helping Inland Revenue staff and their families with a whole range of difficulties, giving them advice and referring them to a lawyer expert in dealing with the particular problem. She was doing the same for the staff at St Vincents Ranui Hospital where she was being cared for during the last months of her life. Angela was passionate about fairness, and that was always manifest in the advice she gave in the course of her work.

Aside from her work, Angela had a range of interests. She enjoyed, and excelled at cryptic crosswords and mastered jigsaw puzzles of enormous complexity. The jigsaw puzzles would often involve thousands of pieces, and were all the better if they had no straight edges.

Angela's principal recreational interest in recent years was cooking; her knowledge of dishes and cooking techniques was encyclopaedic, and she was an accomplished exponent of the art. Angela also loved beautiful things, and shopping for them – the subject was always researched, and then executed with a great deal of thoroughness. Angela will be missed at Kircaldie & Stains, almost as much as she will be missed by her colleagues.

Angela's greatest interest was her family. She was very close to her brother Garth, and his wife Jeanette, and her nieces Amanda and Kate. She took an enormous interest, and justifiable pride in their achievements.

Angela also had a wide circle of friends, many of them friendships maintained since her school days. She was a loyal friend, always understanding of the difficulties friends faced in life, and never judgmental.

The last two years of Angela's life were incredibly difficult ones. Angela suffered from diabetes, and as a result of complications from the condition had both legs amputated during her the last two years of her life. In the case of each limb multiple operations were involved, and a range of complications added to the pain and discomfort, including substantial visual impairment for a large part of that time. During this time Angela suffered excruciating pain. Any relief was, at best, some indeterminate way in the future. Throughout this dreadful time Angela maintained her spirit and her dignity. It was something few, if any, of us could expect to emulate in the circumstances. Fortunately in the last few months Angela's health was greatly improved, she was becoming adept at using her wheelchair, and in the last weeks of her life gained the confidence to make trips into town. Immediately before Christmas she had lunched at the Park Royal, and did her Christmas shopping at Kirkaldie & Stains. It is unfortunate that the dreadful months Angela endured did not lead to a longer period of mobility and comfort. It is some comfort to know that Angela died peacefully a few days after an enjoyable Christmas.

Angela will be long remembered as an outstanding colleague, and one of life's unique personalities.

This was first published on page 7 of the February 2001 issue of Council Brief, the monthly newsletter of the Wellington District Law Society.

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