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Obituary: Gerald Mansfield (Gerry) Niall AO


Cite as: (2007) 81(12) LIJ, p. 41

(21/01/1916 – 21/10/2007)

Prominent Melbourne solicitor and company director Gerry Niall was well-known for his contribution to governance in both the commercial world and the community.

Gerry was educated at Melbourne Grammar and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read law with his great friend EC (Col) Kennon, who also became a well-known Melbourne solicitor. They then took the Bar exams for admission as barristers in London, Gerry being called to the Middle Temple.

After returning to Australia in 1937, Gerry went jackerooing in north-western NSW until war broke out. From 1940 to 1946 he served in the AIF in the Middle East and in Borneo. Having been promoted to major in the Field Artillery in the 7th Division, he later resigned from that rank and reverted to captain so that he could fight with his men in the Borneo campaign. That says a lot about the type of man he was.

After the war, Gerry joined Blake & Riggall (the Melbourne predecessor of Blake Dawson), becoming a partner in 1949. He continued as a partner until 1984 (including a period as senior partner) and then as a consultant until 2001, when he finally retired at the age of 85.

He practised in corporate and commercial law and what would now be called corporate governance. From early in his career he had strong connections with the commercial world, joining the boards of Goldsborough & Mort in 1950 and National Mutual in 1953. In fact, his board commitments became so extensive they absorbed the greater part of his professional life. Apart from National Mutual (now AXA), of which he was chair for 23 years, he served on the boards of many other companies, including Elders IXL, ANZ, Renison Goldfields, LM Ericsson and Volvo Australia.

Gerry also contributed to governance in the wider community. He was chair of the Lauriston Girls School council for five years in the 1960s and served as a trustee of various charitable trusts and foundations, including the Baker Trust and the Scobie & Claire MacKinnon Trust. He was a director of the Institute of Public Affairs for 35 years.

His contribution to the nation was recognised when he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1989 “for service to business, to industry, and to the community”.

Gerry had many and diverse interests. He excelled in many sports and games, including tennis, golf, squash, skiing, billiards and bridge. Playing cricket at university in England, he is said to have faced Harold Larwood, but it is not known how he fared. He was extremely competitive, no matter what the game or the circumstances. Even at billiards, after partners’ meetings, he would remain cold sober so that he could perform at his best.

He was also a lover of nature and bushwalking and a keen and knowledgeable bird watcher. He was a fearless spear fisherman off the rocks at Flinders, where he and his wife Louise had a beach house and spent many family holidays.

Gerry was a frugal man. He declined to convert his Cambridge BA to an MA at a cost of five pounds because he said he had a better use for the money. But while frugal of habit, he was a generous and thoughtful person. In his later years as a partner of Blakes, when his family was grown up, he would never take leave during school holidays so that younger partners with school age children could do so.

Gerry’s marriage to Louise (they were married in 1946) was a marvellous and enduring success. It produced three children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Gerry was meticulous about everything he did and set very high standards for himself and others. He was not given to verbosity. He was gracious, loyal, firm, hard-working, courageous, kind and honourable.

His is a life to celebrate.



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