New Zealand Law Society - William Stuart Shires QC, 1926 - 2008

William Stuart Shires QC, 1926 - 2008

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Bill Shires died in Wellington on 18 June 2008 aged 82.

He was born in Dunedin on 26 February 1926 and spent his early years in Wellington. After moving to Wanganui he won an entrance scholarship to Wanganui Collegiate.

He achieved both academically and on the sports field at Collegiate. He was in the First XV and was an opening bat for the First XI. In his final year, he was one of four in his class to be awarded a university scholarship. He attended Victoria University College where he completed BA and LLB degrees and was awarded the Sir Robert Stout prize. He then proceeded to complete a Master of Laws with first class honours.

After graduating from Victoria, he went to work as a law clerk with the firm of Duncan and Hanna and later with Treadwell's.

Through Victoria University, he was awarded an Orford Scholarship to King's College, Cambridge. He spent two years there completing his PhD in law. The fact that he did in two years what normally takes three, says much about his intellect.

He loved his time at Cambridge – the beauty, the history and the traditions. He played rugby for King's and spent many happy hours watching the cricket at Fenner's, the University of Cambridge's cricket ground.

He overlapped at Cambridge with Robin Cooke – his good friend from school and university. He had many happy times in Cambridge with Robin and Annette and Robin taught Bill to play squash. On their return to Wellington the weekly squash matches continued on Friday evenings for many years.

Back in New Zealand, Bill spent a year working for his friend Jack Bennett in Cooper Rapley in Palmerston North. In 1955 he came to Wellington and joined the firm of Biss and Cooper, later to become Hornblow Cooper Shires and Carran. It was at this time, in 1956, that he married Ann Sladden. He then went on to set up his own practice as a barrister and solicitor, which he ran for several years until he took silk in 1973.

Bill's PhD dissertation was the Nullity of Marriage, and this led him back to New Zealand to become an acknowledged authority on estates, trusts and matrimonial property law. He loved the intellectual side of the law and his legal skills were well regarded. He liked plain, clear English so that legal principles could be clearly articulated and appreciated.

Bill took a keen interest in the legislative process, making significant contribution to the development of key legislation of the time, notable examples being the Matrimonial Property Act 1976 and the Securities Act 1978. Bill's practice as a barrister was wide ranging in civil litigation. He keenly kept abreast of developments in the law right until the time of his death.

Bill was of a shy and diffident nature, and he struggled with bouts of depression all his life. It was hard for him and at times for the family too. He was very fortunate in his good choice of an opposite in his wife, Ann who is outgoing, creative and spontaneous. His daughter Anna says that her mother, a cheerful person, ensured that the family had interesting activities even during Bill's down periods.

Bill loved literature, but his children were an excuse for him to indulge his love of children's books. He often spent his lunch break in the London Book Shop. Parcels would appear from the briefcase for bedtime reading.

He was passionate about sport and enjoyed trips to Athletic Park to watch Wellington play rugby and to the Basin Reserve to watch cricket.

His youngest son Sam says that perhaps the greatest impression his father made on his life was through his love for Cambridge University and in particular King's.

"As soon as I began my legal studies and showed some sort of aptitude he began making noises about post-graduate study at Cambridge. I was initially diffident about the prospect of more study but it was thanks to his insistence that I finally enrolled in the LLM degree at Cambridge in 2000. I have no doubt that the fact that Dad was a Kingsman helped me also to be accepted into King's.

"The King's that I encountered in the 21st century would probably have made Dad shake his head; following the liberalism of the 60s, gone were the gowns and high table and there were women everywhere! However, the stunning beauty of the place, its lofty aura and the camaraderie amongs students in the college were still the same, I am sure. This resulted in one of the most memorable and happiest years of my life."

Bill suffered from emphysema in recent years, but his interest in reading and sport sustained him. He continued to read widely, often re-reading books he had read many years before. He had a phenomenal memory and never forgot anything he read. Until 10 days ago Ann was drawing down a lengthy list of history books from the Wellington library stack rooms.

He enjoyed being right up to date with the news. He listened to all the cricket and rugby matches that he could from around the world, insisting the radio commentaries to be the best. He could tell you the results and statistics for matches going back for years.

Anna Shires: "Through all of this, Dad taught us much about life and quietly took pride in our achievements. We thank him for all he did for us. We are very proud of him. We love him and we will miss him."

This was first published on page 6 of the July 2008 issue of Council Brief, the monthly newsletter of the Wellington District Law Society.

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