From Wainui to the High Court

BIG WIG: New High Court judge Stephen Kos  at his swearing-in ceremony.
CHRIS SKELTON/ The Dominion Post
BIG WIG: New High Court judge Stephen Kos at his swearing-in ceremony.

A Hungarian refugee's son who was raised in Wainuiomata has risen to be a Bentley-driving High Court judge.

In Wellington at his swearing-in yesterday, Justice Stephen Kos, whose elevation to judge brings a drop in income, joked that Attorney-General Chris Finlayson had suggested he "take a vow of poverty" and become a judge.

Justice Kos said he had been dislodged from the comfort of commercial law where, according to other speakers at the ceremony, he gained a reputation for sartorial elegance and having a high regard for fine cars.

A former colleague said that even as a student, Justice Kos had driven an E-type Jaguar – but the windscreen wipers were operated by passengers using strings.

Lawyers at the crowded ceremony were advised to watch for a quivering lower lip, which might be the only warning that displeasure was about to displace Justice Kos's usual "exemplary courtesy".

Justice Kos said his parents had met at a Pahiatua camp for refugees and his first language was Hungarian.

Although he developed a love of the finer things in life, he said that having been brought up in Wainuiomata, he was imprinted with the common touch.

His father had been a ship's officer during World War II. After being freed from a prisoner-of-war camp, his father returned home so changed that his own mother mistook him for a tramp and asked him to wait while she made him a sandwich.

He trained to be a dentist but ran out of money just short of qualifying and became a technician at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

Justice Kos said his father was not bitter that his first choice of career had been thwarted and put his efforts into seeing that his children did well.

The Dominion Post