Sunday, 6 June 2010
It wasn’t long before I developed a deep respect for his ability, and affection for him and a delight in his charming eccentricities.
Iain Galloway, international cricket commentator and lawyer
Life was always interesting in the company of Warrington McCarter Taylor – always entertaining, often unusual and often surprising and this has not ended with his death! Distress at the news of his passing changed to amazement when his son in law Ross Beckingham rang and told me that Warrington had recorded on tape his various instructions and requests, one of which was that I should speak at his funeral service. I feel greatly flattered and sadly inadequate, particularly as by force of circumstances this brief panegyric has been prepared and is being delivered literally between overs in a cricket match.
Warrington would not have wanted me to recite a curriculum vitae and I won’t do so other than to say that after school days at Otago Boys’ High School he graduated in law at the University of Otago and went on to take a master’s degree. His first job was with Statham, Brent and Anderson and in due course he joined the firm of Sidey and Collier, but for the great majority of his career until he retired a few years ago he practised as sole practitioner giving long and dedicated service to his chosen profession and to his clients to whom he was not only a most competent adviser but a trusted friend and confidant. His long career of almost 60 years was broken only by his service in the Army during the 2nd World War and it was during the War that I first met Warrington. We were the only two officers in a remote coastal battery location and so for some months we spent most of every waking hour in each others company. It wasn’t long before I developed a deep respect for his ability, and affection for him and a delight in his charming eccentricities. He was the only person I ever saw do things completely in reverse. In camp he always dressed fully before shaving and it was fascinating to watch him lathering up immaculate in collar and tie and occasionally wearing his peaked hat, whilst at the other end of the day he always consumed his 2 or 3 sweet sherries after we had had dinner “a deux” in the officers mess and with his sherries he ate a whole 2/6 block of chocolate every evening, these being of the size equivalent to those which I’m assured sell today for $2.30. In Mr Pickwick’s words “The eccentricities of genius”. He accepted the rules and regulations of the Army without question – this was wartime and his country was in peril, but in a matter of fact way he idly described in detail how the accuracy and efficiency of the weapons which were at our disposal could be vastly improved, supporting his claims with some highly complex theoretical calculations. Above all I remember how much the very rare weekend leave meant to him when he would be briefly reunited with his wife Catherine.
After the war, as my law studies had been delayed by five years of war, my father Bryce Thomson could think of no-one better to take me for tutorials and our peacetime association only strengthened my wartime impressions of him as a man of complete integrity and sincerity, outstanding intellectual gifts and blessed with a delightful sense of humour which stood him is such good stead when he faced from time to time rejection of his innovative if unusual plans and principles. Those lawyers here today will well remember how, for a period, Warrington signed all his cheques, trust account and personal, with the proviso that they be paid provided we weren’t all destroyed by nuclear explosion, how every year at our Annual Meeting he would politely seek permission to introduce a motion relating to nuclear disarmament only to be told that it was not relevant to the business of the Annual Meeting, a ruling he always accepted with dignity and good grace. How many of us will forget the settlement of the sale of the final section of a big subdivision in which he acted for the vendor and to which settlement he invited all the solicitors who had acted for the purchasers of other sections in the subdivision over the years and he provided a champagne celebration for us all. He prided himself on drafting the shortest wills and transfers possible – productive furrows on the brows of Justice Department officials – query him they may, fault him they could not. He made a very significant contribution to the Law Society in the field of Property Law and delivered at least one paper to a New Zealand Law Society Conference.
Some who didn’t know him well no doubt regarded him as a crank – I regarded him for what he undoubtedly was, a genius. On one occasion his car brakes developed an extraordinary fault. They worked when going forward, but failed in reverse. Nothing the expert mechanics tried was effective – they were at their wits end. Warrington, knowing nothing about mechanics, completely dismantled the system, fixed the fault and reassembled the brakes. He worked the whole thing out theoretically on paper and then put it into practice.
When I was a member of the Council of the Law Society we tried very hard to persuade him to join us so that he would become President in due course, but her refused – he was essentially a modest, retiring person who never sought publicity but accepted it when it came and no doubt welcomed it if it meant support for one of his particular causes such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or the retention of the trolley buses in Dunedin. Like so many humble and retiring people he was devoted to his family and how marvellous it was that he and his brother, Harold, should meet again last year after 56 years and what unbounded joy it gave them both. His dedicated devotion to Catherine over the later years when she was so frail and the grief of her loss. His pride in his children Suzanne and Brian and their families, Ross and Prue and their children to whom we all extend our deepest sympathy. (Although he took great delight in saying to me “Rugby Football – that’s the game they play on horseback with sticks isn’t it?” We know how closely he followed Brian’s athletic achievements and how proud he was of them.)
Finally, he came to terms with his Church in later years. He was a regular parishioner of Knox Church in his younger days, but his brilliant, searching, questioning, demanding mind could not accept many of its principles and concepts and he became agnostic. I remember his coming to St Paul’s Cathedral not long after Tim Raphael arrived as Dean – a follower of Bishop Robinson the author of “Honest to God”, he advertised his Sunday night sermon as “The Resurrection – Facts or Fiction”. Warrington was there to hear it and as he left he handed his prayer book to me and said “I stood up when you said the Creed, but the only statement I accepted as correct was “he suffered under Pontius Pilate”. He subsequently wrote a most learned treatise in which he claimed that Christ did not die upon the Cross and his argument and evidence based on his interpretation of the Bible is indeed convincing. However, he returned to his Church in later years so grateful for what it had done for his ailing wife – acknowledging and accepting and appreciating its positive aspects and believing that it was the only subsisting force for good.
My tribute to Warrington Taylor has been inadequate – a number of you here today knew him longer and better than I did – George Bell and Bryce Thomson his two oldest friends, the former his partner in lunch hour cello duets in Warrington’s office for many years. The latter the third cyclist on those pioneer motor cycling tours of the South Island, and Miss Tate, loyal and devoted, his entire staff for so long and so much a part of and support for Warrington’s way of life.
One could end by using the familiar cliché “All of us are richer for having known him” for so we are, but I would add to it the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, for I believe that they are singularly appropriate as an epitaph for a gentle man who, when he saw a need did all he could to meet it and if necessary make it a cause. Emerson wrote “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is the genius”.