Russell Robinson died at Atawhai on 14 August 2017 aged 76. The following eulogy was delivered at his funeral by Alan Davies, one of his former partners at Willis Toomey Robinson:
Firstly, I would like to say how honoured I felt at being asked by Russell some months ago to say a few words today on behalf of the staff and partners of Willis Legal, a firm which at least for Russell’s legal career began life as Robinson & Toomey. Robinson & Toomey was the law firm which had been founded by Russell’s father Robbie in 1959 when he took the late Noel Toomey into partnership with him.
Russell began with Robinson & Toomey on 4 December 1964 and became a partner of the firm on 1 April 1967, the same day that Tim Twist also became a partner in the firm. The firm then became Robinson Toomey & Partners. Russell and Tim became great friends and practiced together as partners for many years right through until Tim’s retirement. During that time Robinson Toomey & Partners merged with Lusk Willis to become Willis Toomey Robinson & Co and Russell remained a partner of that firm until he retired from the partnership in 2008. Russell then became a consultant with the firm and was doing consultancy work for what is now Willis Legal until shortly before his death.
I had the pleasure of working for and with Russell over a period of 30 years, firstly as a new staff solicitor in the firm and for almost 20 years as a partner of Russell’s. During much of that time Russell was a senior partner of the firm.
Russell was a very special man. He was a larger than life character who was always enthusiastic and positive and he was the ultimate team player. He was absolutely devoted and committed to the firm not only during his time as a partner but also during his time as a consultant. Even in the later years when he was becoming ill he was still always available and popping into the office as often as he could. While he was a consultant Russell took on the rather thankless task of culling old deeds packets for us. Most of us would never think of volunteering for that job when we were well never mind while we were ill but for Russell it was a job that needed to be done for the firm and he was happy to do it. Russell, in fact, was still taking boxes of deeds home with him as late as December last year.
Russell was enormously respected by his peers, staff and clients alike. He developed a huge practice over the years, a direct result of not only his excellent legal skills but also his very personable nature and ability to relate well to everyone he dealt with. Russell would always go the extra mile for clients and was always prepared to visit or meet with clients at their homes, particularly those he knew may have had some difficulty getting in to the office themselves.
Russell was someone who engendered great loyalty and many of his clients were with him for decades. Staff were no different. His secretary, Karen Staines, worked with Russell for some 30 years until she sadly passed away in 2012. John Hayes, a legal executive who began with Robinson Toomey & Partners in 1968, worked with Tim Twist and Russell for more than 40 years. Allan Hay was another legal executive who was one of Russell’s right-hand men and he worked with Russell for some 21 years.
His respect from his peers was not only as a lawyer but also as a person. An example of this was seen some years ago when a local firm was having some issues they needed to address. Rather than looking out of town for assistance which would have been quite understandable they got Russell involved due largely no doubt to the respect that the parties had for him and the knowledge that they could be sure Russell would deal with their situation even-handedly and professionally.
Legal practice can be a competitive environment at times and in provincial areas, in particular, reputation can be everything. I think I can still, however, honestly say that in the 30 years or so I have known Russell and practiced in Hawke’s Bay, I have seldom, if ever, heard a negative comment made about Russell by a fellow practitioner.
It wasn’t, however, just through his legal practice that Russell made a huge contribution to the firm. Russell took on roles that I would suggest very few senior partners in larger provincial firms would ever consider. He was a man of many talents and these are some examples of those:
- He was the barbecue chef (and a superb one at that) at a number of the firm Christmas parties.
- For a number of years Russell was the one responsible for putting together great Christmas hampers for all of the staff.
- He was the one who for many years got the nibbles organised for the partners’ retreat weekends at Wairakei.
- He assumed the role of Father Christmas at many of the firm’s Christmas functions.
- And last, but certainly not least, he was a member, along with a number of other partners at the time, of an infamous ballet dance troupe who dressed in colourful tutus, performed a ballet recital on the tearoom balcony at a staff Christmas function. I am sure you can all imagine what an impressive sight Russell would have made ballet dancing in a tutu.
On a personal note Russell and I shared a great love of all sport and a bad habit of staying up very late at night on occasions watching in particular cricket or tennis from overseas. The first half hour (or probably more) on a Monday morning (and not just Monday mornings) was often spent talking about what sport we had watched at the weekend. In recent years those discussions would often include Russell recounting the cricketing exploits of his grandsons of which he was always immensely proud. Even after Russell became ill he would still pop into my room when he was in the office to talk about who he had seen Roger Federer beat the night before or to ask whether I had seen some great catch in a 20/20 game he had watched.
Russell was a huge part of our firm for so long it was always going to be difficult for the staff and partners to contemplate life without him. Unfortunately, that time has now come. Russell will be very sadly missed by us all but he has left a great legacy, both as a lawyer and a person, that will never be forgotten.