A life defined by enduring principles
Gordon Whiting, who has died aged 76, was an Environment Court judge who also presided over major boards of inquiry, including Wellington’s Basin Reserve flyover in 2014.
He started out aspiring to the priesthood, but instead followed other paths that led first to economics and then the study of law. Upon hearing of Gordon’s choice to become a lawyer, his father agreed but urged him to benefit others before himself. ‘‘Gordie’’ made good on that promise.
Robert Gordon Whiting was born in Oamaru, educated at St Kevin’s College, then Otago University, and was a man of many talents and human qualities.
At St Kevin’s, he was sergeant major of the school cadet corps, as well as head prefect and captain of the First XV. A recent colleague on the Environment Court, then a third former, tells of having been in awe of him.
As a rugby-playing son of the Irish, with a great, sometimes lubricated, tenor voice, he could belt out Phil The Fluther’s Ball without missing a line of lyric from that wild song.
Bill Sugrue, a lifelong friend in Otago and later Northland, said in his eulogy that there was no short way to describe the achievements of Gordie Whiting. Although from different professions, they encouraged each other in moving to Northland to serve.
There, Gordon and wife Sue often extended a warm welcome to join their family at table; particularly to younger professionals, as recalled recently by District Court Judge Gerard Winter.
This became a family of four children, and later their partners and 10 grandchildren that now reflects inherited wisdom, aroha and diligence never schooled but born of good parents who are wise, loving, kind, active, generous, joyful and well-read.
In Whangarei, Whiting played rugby, then turned to refereeing at provincial level. He practised criminal law both as a prosecutor and defence counsel. A letter received from a client of 46 years ago speaks of having his life significantly improved by Whiting’s representation, kindness and wisdom.
He was sworn in as an Environment Court and District Court judge in 1997. His intellect is recorded in his many significant Environment Court judgments.
Whiting loved the law, and quietly served his community. He lived and was defined by enduring principles that matter. As an advocate he defended fiercely, prosecuted fairly and gave good counsel.
As a man of sartorial elegance, his fashion choices of loud ties, coloured shirts and elegant jackets reflected the ever-present twinkle in his eye and relish for life.
As an environment judge and subsequently, he presided over wide-ranging cases concerning such matters as:
❚ Power generation – hydro, geothermal, gas and wind
❚ Infrastructure – roading and airports
❚ Commercial and industrial development
❚ Coastal issues and sensitive landscapes
❚ The review of regional and district plans
Environment Court cases frequently involve questions of complexity and technical legal difficulty, including conflicts between the evidence of expert witnesses on technical issues.
Some that he presided over for the court, and later on boards of inquiry, included contentious and important matters such as the Tongariro Power Development Flood Control Scheme reconsenting appeals, geothermal power station appeals, the Waikato Expressway Designation Hamilton Section appeals, the well-known King Salmon Board of Inquiry, the equally memorable Basin Reserve Board of Inquiry, South Canterbury water allocation cases for Canterbury Regional Council, Te Kuha coalmine on the West Coast, and the Rena wreck consents in the Bay of Plenty.
He heard and determined a number of strategically important cases on policy instruments for infrastructure and natural resource use, around Lake Taupo¯ and the Waikato River.
His colleagues in the Environment Court greatly miss him. He developed a love and great skill for environmental law, always
ensuring his hearings were run without rancour, where people could present their cases in their own way. His ability to converse in te reo and his respect for tikanga were greatly admired.
At his funeral, Environment Commissioner Kevin Prime incanted the personal poroporoaki (farewell tribute) in the panel above. A humble man, Whiting would not have expected such tributes, nor a packed St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland. But those present came because each was the better for knowing him.
Whiting died peacefully, surrounded by his family. Survivors include wife Sue; children and partners Natasha and Richard, Jeremy and Emilia, Stefan and Karen, Kirsty and Richard; and treasured grandchildren Finn, Ruby, Kobi, Lucca, Leda, Francisco, Abby, Noah, Charlie and Florence. – By Principal Environment Judge Laurie Newhook
Gordon Whiting on a site visit during an Environment Court hearing in Marlborough in 2009 and, below, on the board of inquiry into the proposed Basin Reserve flyover in Wellington in 2014.