By Rebecca Kitteridge
John Fowler, a senior associate at Bell Gully Buddle Weir in Wellington, died on 20 July 1998 at the age of 32, after a long illness.
John attended St Patrick’s College in Wellington from 1979 to 1983, at which time he developed his love of language, logic and argument. These interests led him to his true vocation -–the law. John began his law degree at Victoria University of Wellington in 1984. In 1985 he won the Plunket Medal for Oratory, demonstrating the powers of persuasion that were to become his tools of trade.
However, he received devastating news later that year. John, a haemophiliac, was told that he had received contaminated blood products several years earlier, and had tested HIV positive. The shock for John was terrible. He was given a two-year prognosis. Despite this, he continued his studies. He graduated and was admitted to the bar in 1989. It was around this time that John learned that he had contracted Hepatitis C from a further batch of infected blood products.
John’s passion was litigation. His first job was with the litigation department at Morrison Morpeth (now Morrison Kent) where he received a solid grounding in the whole range of litigation – criminal, civil and commercial. During his years at Morrison Morpeth he studied for his Masters degree part-time (specialising in maritime law) and graduated LLM in 1993.
In 1993 John moved to Bell Gully Buddle Weir’s litigation department where he continued to develop his maritime law practice and, in time, became a senior associate. John married Jane Sayers in 1995, and continued to work at Bell Gully until his death.
These are the facts, and it is right to record them. But what also needs to be said is that John Fowler was a remarkable person who had a tremendous impact on those he met and those he worked with. He was a hard-working lawyer of outstanding ability and integrity who was well respected by peers and clients. He was very funny and extremely charming. But he also had some special qualities: courage, dignity, loyalty, humility, a wiilingness to see the best in people and an empathy with the disadvantaged. Perhaps these qualities were a result of John’s long battle against pain and illness and his strong personal faith.
John kept his illness a secret from all but his family and closest friends almost until his death. I know that he agonised about this decision, but his reasons were simple. He did not want to be treated differently. He wanted to progress in his professional life on his own merits. So he rarely complained, and never used his illness as an excuse.
John’s love of the law as one of the mainstays that kept him going through the last, difficult, years. He was still working on the Bell Gully maritime law precedents until the month before he died. Bell Gully was tremendously supportive of John and Jane until the time and John’s death and I know both of them appreciated this very much.
I am a better person for knowing John Fowler. I am sure that many in the profession will join me in sending my deepest sympathy to Jane and to John’s family.
This obituary was first published in LawTalk 511, December 1998, page 4.