Legal mind and community spirit constantly on the go

02:42, Feb 02 2013
John Morrison
John Bentley Morrison

John Bentley Morrison

b Timaru, July 1, 1930;

m (1) Jennifer Shaw (diss) 1s 2d;

(2) Diana Mercer 2s;

d Wellington, July 10, 2012, aged 82.

Wellington commercial lawyer John Morrison, a man with a strong Christian faith, was equally at home dealing with down and outs and the rich and famous during his long, productive working life.


When Walter Arnold was the Wellington city missioner from 1964-81, Mr Morrison would regularly visit the night shelter in Taranaki St on Sunday nights to help his friend sort out housekeeping issues.

It was all done with no fuss or bother, in much the same way as the pro bono assistance he provided behind the scenes to Bruce Stewart at Tapu te Ranga Marae, at Rhine St, Island Bay.

Mr Morrison, the youngest of six siblings, was a man who got on with business from an early age.

His father, William, was a bank manager of Irish descent and the Morrison family was regularly transferred between towns in the North and South Islands.

Mr Morrison was born in Timaru and educated at King's College in Auckland before studying law at Victoria University, where he developed a close friendship with Sir Michael Hardie Boys, who later became governor- general.

At King's College John Morrison was a prefect and a member of the First XI in 1949. He was competitive on the sports field and developed a love of golf and tennis while at college.

He was playing tennis at Wellington's Central Park Renouf Centre with friend and former Telecom chairman Peter Shirtcliffe, among others, when he suffered his second and final major heart attack this month.

The family lived in a Karori home with a tennis court in the backyard.

Two of his brothers died on active service during World War II. Bobs Morrison died in the Battle of Crete in May 1941 and Lloyd Morrison died in North Africa later the same year.

His eldest brother, Brigadier Kim Morrison, was lucky to survive the war after being badly wounded. He went on to lead the NZ Infantry Battalion during the Malayan Emergency.

Mr Morrison is survived by older brother Hugh, father of businessmen Rob Morrison and the late Lloyd Morrison.

After his legal studies, Mr Morrison moved on to work as a law clerk before gradually making his way up through the legal ranks to take on a partnership with Scott, Hardie Boys on April 1, 1957.

The partnership expanded, with its name changing, to include Sir John Jeffries and Malcolm Dunphy.

Mr Morrison remained associated with the firm, now known as Morrison Kent, till his death. He was a partner for almost 40 years before working as a consultant for seven years.

In his professional prime - he was known as "JBM" within Morrison Kent - he had a vast practice, covering everything from wills to commercial work.

He acted for judges, soldiers, musicians, scientists, doctors and business people, but also for young people buying their first homes.

Away from his legal work he was honorary consul-general for Denmark for 24 years.

He was also chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of Wellington, the most senior legal position in the church, and later a lay canon.

Two weeks before his death he took a batch of sausage rolls into his Morrison Kent offices to mark his 82nd birthday.

The gesture reflected the fact he never really retired from the law.

During his career he held such positions as chairman of the costs and conveyancing committee of the New Zealand Law Society and a directorship of National Mutual Life for 13 years.

In a reflection published by Morrison Kent, partner Andrew Stewart recalled an early encounter with Mr Morrison in his heyday.

He described him as a practitioner in full flight while around him there was a mountain of files on the go. "He could be prone to worrying about things too much, and perhaps charged too little. His partners may have grumbled at times but clients never complained," Mr Stewart wrote.

"At Morrison Kent, John will be remembered for an unstinting ability to be courteous and well- mannered, for the sight of his thick-rimmed glasses and the sound of his friendly hello, hello over the hubbub of the office."

He was closely associated with opera, on the Board of Wellington Opera and then its successor, NZ Opera. He had a deep attachment to Wagner.

Mr Morrison was made an officer of the NZ Order of Merit in 2001 for services to the arts.

He served as a trustee on the Bowen Trust Board and for the National Museum and Art Gallery. Given his family background it was natural that Mr Morrison also put his hand up to serve as a trustee of the National Army Museum at Waiouru.

He was a man who was always on the go.

Sources: Andrew Stewart, Diana Morrison, Matthew Morrison.

The Dominion Post