By Sir Rodney Gallen
The Right Honourable Sir Gordon Ellis Bisson PC Kt B LLB died at Wellington on 14November 2010.
He was 91 years of age, nearly 92.
To the older members of the profession in Hawke’s Bay he was always known as “Don”.
He was born in Napier and educated there, attending the Napier Boys’ High School for his secondary education. His first day at the Napier Boys High School in the then third form was the day of the 1931 earthquake and with the rest of his class he had not long left the Assembly Hall after sitting entrance examinations when the earthquake struck and the building collapsed.
After obtaining his entrance qualifications he enrolled at the then Victoria University College to study Law. He was awarded a Gold medal for excellence in his studies and after graduation and call to the bar he was for a time associate to Sir Humphrey O’Leary the then Chief Justice.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he volunteered for the Royal New Zealand Navy and served on HMNZS Leander until he was transferred to the Royal Navy where he served as radar officer rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
He was mentioned in dispatches for his distinguished service in the Navy.
After the war he returned to Napier and joined the firm founded by his father, of Bisson and Moss, which later became Bisson Moss and Bisson, and later Bisson Moss Bisson and Robertshawe.
He had a wide general practice and was appointed Crown Solicitor for Hawke’s Bay in 1961, a post which he held until his appointment to the bench in 1978.
Sir Gordon played an active part in Law Society affairs and was President of the Hawke’s Bay District Law Society and a Vice President of the New Zealand Law Society. With the late Jock Twigg he was a joint organising secretary of the New Zealand Law Society conference held in Napier.
Sir Gordon was always active in local affairs and supported many local organisations including being President of the Hawke’s Bay Law Tennis Club. He also had a long standing interest in and knowledge of jazz music.
Sir Gordon and Lady Bisson were extremely hospitable people and their home at Poraiti, Hardington, was a place to which all were welcome, from visiting Judges and dignitaries to all members of the legal profession, and indeed to people from all over Hawke’s Bay and the wider legal world. Lady Bisson too was very active in local societies and organisations.
Sir Gordon had many connections and friendships with prominent lawyers in the United States including Dean Griswold and with members of the United States judiciary.
Sir Gordon was sent by the International Bar Association to report on the Rule of Law in the Philippines which he did after having carried out an extensive investigation. His wife accompanied him on this investigation.
In 1978 he was appointed to the then Supreme Court, now the High Court, and was stationed in Hamilton. Hamilton had been established as a judicial centre by the then Chief Justice and two Judges were stationed there, the number being later raised to three. It was an extensive circuit with New Plymouth and Rotorua included.
In 1987 Sir Gordon was appointed to the Court of Appeal and moved to Wellington. As a permanent member of the Court of Appeal he was made a Privy Councillor and a Knight Bachelor.
Sir Gordon retired when he reached the age of 72 but remained as a temporary Judge to sit whenever the Court of Appeal required an additional judge.
Lady Bisson was nearly as well known in Napier as Sir Gordon and they had a very close and happy marriage for more than 60 years. In recent years Lady Bisson suffered from ill health and was looked after devotedly by Sir Gordon until it became necessary for her to move into care. He visited her there twice every day.
Sir Gordon and Lady Bisson had three daughters and he is survived by grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Sir Gordon lived a life of service accepting obligations to the community in which he lived, to the wider society and to his country. We were fortunate to have known him and the contributions he made over the many years will be enduring.
This obituary was first published in the Hawke’s Bay branch newsletter, December 2010.