New Zealand Law Society - Roland Patrick Towle, 1924 - 2017

Roland Patrick Towle, 1924 - 2017

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Pat Towle
Pat Towle

Retired lawyer Roland Patrick Towle, better known as Pat, died on 22 March 2017, at the age of 92.

The barrister and solicitor will be remembered as a man with a big heart who liked to get legal matters resolved with little fuss.

He had no time for political correctness and was passionate about travelling, something his legal career provided much of, as his three children were all born in Uganda where he worked for 14 years after the end of the war.

Pat Towle gained his Bachelor of Laws in 1947.

He was ready to serve his country but missed serving overseas despite being called upon for duty because the war had ended.

Law runs through the bloodline. Pat’s brother John and their father Roland were lawyers, and both Pat’s sons, David and Richard are also lawyers. His daughter, Gillian Simpson, is the executive principal at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch.

David practises law as a senior litigator at Bruce Dell Law, and Richard is the representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia.

Pat's  father Roland was one of the partners in an Auckland law firm called Reed, Bailey and Towle which he joined in 1912, also the year of the Titanic. That firm morphed into Towle and Cooper.

Sporting prowess

Born on 22 December 1924, Pat Towle attended King’s College in Auckland and was a high achiever, being the runner-up to dux or proxime accessit and he was also a prefect. He played in the school 1st XV rugby team and the First XI cricket team and still holds an athletics record at the private school.

“He put it down to a very strong tail wind on the day. He told me he still held it because they converted the distance from feet and inches to metres. I think it was a 220 yard running race back then and he was quite proud of his record,” says David Towle, the youngest of the three children.

After school he went to Auckland University to study law. In those days it was part-time with a clerkship which Pat did at Towle and Cooper.

“He was paid the princely sum of one-pound a week and that was before tax,” David Towle says.

War had broken out in Europe and the Pacific so Pat Towle, like many young men, was called upon to serve King George VI with military service.

“He was literally on stand-by, had a year off studies to do his military training but didn’t end up fighting because the war ended,” his son says.

He was in the 16th Reinforcement from 1945-46, holding the rank of Sergeant.

1947, as well as gaining his law degree and being admitted, was also the year he began travelling, a bug that stayed with him for life.

More than a decade in Uganda

“On just seven days’ notice, he boarded the SS Rimutaka passenger ship for England where he trained further at Magdalen College at Oxford University. This and other study at the London School of Oriental and African studies prepared him for his first posting in Uganda,” David Towle says.

Pat worked in the East African country from 1948-1962, moving around to serve in various areas.

“At the end of his first term he was appointed as District Commissioner in Karamoja which was unheard of in those days for a young lawyer to gain such a role,” he says.

But it wasn’t all work and no play. Pat found love after meeting English woman Mary Goddard who he married in 1952. The couple had their children in Uganda.

In 1954, the young Queen Elizabeth II was visiting Commonwealth countries accompanied by her young husband Prince Phillip.

And Pat Towle found himself seated at the same dinner table as the monarch.

“He had become the Private Secretary to the Governor of Uganda and he told me the story of how he was seated at the head of the table during the Queen’s visit. Both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were sitting close by. Some years later when the Queen was visiting New Zealand, they met again and she remembered having spoken to him at the dinner table,” he says.

“He probably knocked over a wine glass … but little gems like that, my father treasured those memories,” David Towle says.

'Glorified clerk'

Eventually, Pat Towle returned with his young family to New Zealand.

But life in New Zealand from late 1962 was very different to life in 1947. Pat may now have had 15 years’ legal experience but that didn’t count for that much.

“He was back at Towle and Cooper but told he was essentially a ‘glorified clerk’ now earning the princely sum of about 20 pounds a week.”

However, hard work paid off and he was made a partner in the law firm in 1964.

He remained a partner until 1984 when the firm went through various mergers and name changes to eventually become Brandon Brookfield where he held the position of consultant.

One of the highlights of Pat Towle’s legal career was being appointed Master of the High Court in 1987.

He and Anne Gambrill made legal history in that they were the first two lawyers to take on these positions since they were created by a 1986 amendment to the Judicature Act 1908.

An article in LawTalk 266 (5 August 1987) described the workload as including summary judgments, winding up proceedings under the Companies Act, the assessment of damages where liability has been determined or the trial of proceedings in which only the amount of debt or damages is disputed, proceedings relating to caveats under the Land Transfer Act and the making of orders by consent.

“It was 1987 so it was the year of the share market crash and there were liquidations and bankruptcies galore. He was thrown right into the deep end of the pool,” David Towle says.

Before this role, Pat Towle’s specialty during his years as a practice partner was mostly in civil litigation.

“A lot of defamation work and one of his clients was the former Auckland Star newspaper. One case he remembered well was when the Star was jointly sued, along with Tim Shadbolt. It was a longstanding trial. He spent a lot of time in the courtroom with Tim describing him as an astute and remarkable bloke,” he says.

Focused on getting a solution

Pat Towle was unpretentious and felt that his role as a lawyer was to process things quickly.

“He could see cases getting bogged down in litigation which still happens a lot. He would cut through the nonsense and while people will have their own personal views on his decisions, they were always focussed on getting a solution.”

Pat Towle’s first wife, Mary, died in 1980 at the age of 49. He remarried after meeting Clare Yates again who he had known from his days in England.

“She also knew my mother and they had a very happy marriage until Clare died tragically aboard a cruise ship about three years ago,” David Towle says.

Pat remained active up until 2015 when he suffered a stroke.

“You’d be amazed by the amount of places he and my mother, and then Clare, visited. The other love in his life was trout fishing. We still have a family bach in the Taupo area. If there was one thing that would get my father talking for hours, it was trout and what he was going to catch or what he had caught.”

Mr Towle was also a life member of the Medico Legal Society in Auckland.   

“He had a very inquiring mind, completely against what he described as ‘political correctness gone mad’. He called a spade a spade and didn’t like things being dressed up,” he says.

Pat Towle retired when he was about 70.

Roland Patrick Towle’s final journey was held at St Mark’s Church, Remuera on Wednesday, 29 March.

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