New Zealand Law Society - Philip David Watts (1955-2020)

Philip David Watts (1955-2020)

Judge Brandts-Giesen shares the eulogy he gave to his friend and colleague Philip Watts.

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I first met Philip when he applied for a job in my small practice. He was a shearer who was drifting back to the law for which he had qualified two decades earlier.

It became clear pretty quickly that he did not want to apply himself from 8am to beyond 6pm conveying bungalows in a country town, while defending breaches of the Dog Registration Act as light relief in what was still then the Rangiora District Court.

In spite of his unsuitability to become my slave, we did click as people and became great friends, as did our wives.

Philip did become a real lawyer, not just a Barrister Sole but a barrister with a soul… a rare if not unique bird. My then firm had an arrangement until the end that he could interview his clients in our offices in exchange for the occasional box of chocolates or bottle of wine, but most importantly his friendship.

He was a good lawyer who represented his clients with vigour but also realism. Judges could rely on his integrity and he delivered good results to the hundreds of often disadvantaged people assigned to him. He was often dressed in a smart Scottish tweed suit which he had sustainably acquired in a local op-shop.

Philip and I played tennis regularly until I moved to Invercargill for my work. He nearly always won, except when he was sporting an injury from tramping, kayaking or the myriad of other interests his lifestyle allowed him to pursue.

Janette and I enjoyed the hospitality we received from Lizzie and Philip. It was a joy to be marched up the hill behind their home and to be encouraged to hug a eucalyptus tree, to hear its sap rising on a spring day, and to listen to their plans to build afresh with views across the plains and to the Southern Alps. A tiny house, the Hideaway, has just been built, alas too late.

It was hilarious to see Lizzie, preparing a nutritious summer lunch, cut a lettuce over which the dog had just laid a territorial claim. The impromptu hot soup on a winter’s night was just as delicious, and probably safer.

Their house was the original cottage of a nineteenth century Irish farmer who would have loved his piece of freehold land as passionately as Philip and Lizzie did. With its scattered middle eastern rugs, a piano, a rocking chair, and pictures on the walls, and regular improvements to make it more comfortable, Country Life magazine would commend the house as “ shabby chic”. It was their home, warmed by their generous hearts and firewood from a pile that had been cleverly stacked to dry, Quaker style, near the house.

Lizzie, we share some of your grief today. We will all look after you and keep you in our circles. My two minutes are up, but you gave me an extension.

I can do no better than quote Lizzie’s nephew Matthew, an American attorney, who writes as follows: “I actually hope that Philip does not rest in peace. He is better off on a farm that is a little run down and needs a lot of work. With a bookshelf of Blackstone and Hart for when the day is done."

Philip, our friend,with that valediction, we bid you farewell. Arohanui.

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