Dame Alison Burns Quentin-Baxter DNZM QSO had a distinguished career wearing multiple hats – she was the first woman chair of the law students’ society at the Auckland Law School, University of Auckland, a legal advisor, diplomat, teacher and a law reformer. She was a trailblazer for women in law and truly believed that women could achieve anything just as well as their male counterparts.
Upon graduating from law school in 1951, she joined the Department of External Affairs to pursue her interest in international affairs and government. Her international stints took her to New York where she represented New Zealand on the Legal Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. She was also part of the delegation that worked on maritime law in Geneva, Switzerland.
Her commitment and zeal saw her promoted to head of the department’s legal division at just 27 years old, a position she held until 1960 when she was posted to Washington DC as first secretary in the New Zealand Embassy. It was only after her marriage that she moved to Wellington and chose to teach law and constitutional history at the Victoria University of Wellington. The University later awarded her an honorary doctorate of Laws in 2003.
It was her uncharted work in collaboration with her husband, who was appointed as constitutional advisor to the Niue Island Assembly, that would become a theme in her career. Her work in the Pacific Islands, from drafting the constitution for Niue, aiding in international relations, serving as counsel to the Marshall Islands Constitutional Conventions, and acting as an independent constitutional advisor to the Saint Helena Legislative Council, were all part of her passion to protect the identity of the Pacific.
In addition to her international roles, Dame Alison was director of the New Zealand Law Commission from 1987 to 1994.
Dame Alison received a host of honours and awards in recognition of her work over the years. In the 1993 Queen’s Birthday Honours, she was appointed a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order for public services. Later, she was appointed a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the law and was named a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2009.
Dame Alison’s funeral service will be held at Old St Paul’s, Mulgrave Street, Wellington, on Monday 9 October 2023 at 1 pm, followed by private cremation.