By Richard Caughey
Stanley Tong (known as Stan Tong to his friends) died at Auckland on 12 September 1993 aged 92, a day before his 93rd birthday. Stan was elected President of the New Zealand Law Society in 1971, an office he held for 3 years. Her Majesty The Queen awarded him the CBE in 1975 in recognition of his distinguished contribution to the legal profession in New Zealand over many years.
At Stan Tong’s funeral in Auckland, Sir David Beattie, former Governor-General and High Court Judge, mentioned in his eulogy that Stan was educated at Auckland Grammar School. He started in form 3A with a “sparkling and very bright group”, who later gave distinguished service to New Zealand in many fields, including Sir Alexander Turner, President of the Court of Appeal, and Sir Leslie Munro, who was to become President of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
As a law student in Auckland he worked on the wharves during the height of the influenza epidemic after World War I. Stan Tong was admitted to the bar in 1922 and commenced practice as a sole practitioner in 1924. During the next 40 years he built up a very solid and successful practice. He became known as an all-round lawyer with a wide knowledge of the law and a practical approach which went incisively to the heart of a problem.
Stan Tong married Kitty Dowdle in 1924 and they enjoyed 68 years of marriage. Kitty used to help Stan in his office during the early years and was always a great support to him, especially when he was elected President of the Auckland District Law Society in 1960, an office which he held for 2 years. The names of Stanley and Kitty Tong became synonymous with gracious hospitality and the ability to create a warm and sociable atmosphere and put people at their ease. They presided with dignity and charm as host and hostess at many Law Society functions in Auckland and later in Wellington.
In 1965 Stan Tong took me into partnership with him. I have much to thank him for, including his generosity, understanding and help in my “salad days” as a young solicitor and partner. I count it a privilege to have been his partner for 15 years. In 1970 the firm merged with Hesketh & Richmond (now Hesketh Henry) where Stan was the senior partner for 10 years until 1980 when he became a consultant to the firm.
Stan Tong was the first non-Wellingtonian to be President of the New Zealand Law Society – a mark of the high regard in which he was held by the profession throughout New Zealand. On his retirement in 1974, the Society’s Council passed this resolution with acclamation:
“That the Council records the thanks of the legal profession in New Zealand to Mr SWW Tong for his devoted service as President of the Society for the past three years. The Council acknowledges his quiet effective leadership and congratulates him upon the progress made by the Society during his term as President. The Society is particularly indebted to Mr & Mrs Tong for the gracious and generous manner in which they have represented the Society, both in New Zealand and overseas. The Council on behalf of the whole profession wishes them both well for the future.”
As President of the New Zealand Law Society, Stan Tong travelled, along with Kitty, to many law conferences. Their personal diplomacy attracted some of the leading jurists to New Zealand including Lord Chief Justice Parker and later Lord Chief Justice Widgery. They also established contact with leading members of the American Bar Association and the judiciary in North America.
Stan Tong further served the profession as a member of the New Zealand Law Society disciplinary committee for 10 years. He was prominent in Auckland in various fields. For many years he was a co-opted member of the Town Planning Committee of the Auckland City Council, President of the Northern Club for 3 years and life member, President of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and a keen Rotarian. He and Kitty were both life members of the Parnell Tennis Club.
At the time of their platinum wedding anniversary, as a token of gratitude for their life in the law, Stan and Kitty announced the establishment of the Catherine & Stanley Tong Law Scholarship Trust. The main objective of the trust is to assist law students and graduates in New Zealand who might otherwise find it hard to continue their legal studies. The trustees, at Stan’s wish, look to help deserving students with potential whose financial means are limited.
Stan Tong was an effective and sensitive lawyer who built up enduring friendships with many people, including his own clients who appreciated him as a person as well as a lawyer. He was most approachable and was always ready to listen to those who sought his advice – and many did from law clerks to judges. He was an independent thinker and known for his objectivity and sound judgement.
Courtesy and kindness were hallmarks of Stanley Tong. He stood for integrity, the highest professional standards and for service to all clients whether great or small. It was a matter of great importance to him that the law profession should “stand tall” in the eyes of the community and should be respected for its honesty and sense of social responsibility. He strove hard to achieve these ideals which were so well reflected in his own professional and personal life. We salute a warm-hearted man and dedicated lawyer who gave himself without reserve for over 60 years to the legal profession, to his clients and to his wide circle of friends.
This obituary was first published in LawTalk 403, 26 October 1993, page 3.