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Obituary : John Frederick Riordan (25/02/1913 – 08/05/2003)

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Cite as: (2003) 77(7) LIJ, p.31

John Riordan, founder of Riordan & Partners and a solicitor for more than 60 years, died on 8 May 2003, aged 90.

A man for all seasons, a 20th century Thomas More, with intense concern for social problems, combined with the intellectual detachment to resolve them, often in a strongly individual way.”

These words are from a special feature in The Shepparton News on the celebration in 1986 of my father’s golden jubilee as a lawyer. The writer summed up my father very succinctly as a humble man, more concerned with others than himself; a man of principle, who believed in maintaining absolute values, particularly when they were under challenge; and an iconoclast – with a steely determination to “take on” established institutions to protect the less privileged.

These qualities shaped my father’s contribution to the law and the Shepparton community, his two loves in life after his family.

Dad graduated from Melbourne University in 1934 with a law degree and an honours arts degree. After completing his articles in Melbourne, he took the bold step of opening his own legal practice in Shepparton in September 1936. On his second day in business, his good friend Alan Stuart entered his small one room office and broke Dad’s ruler and rubber in two and calmly stated: “There you are Jack, I have doubled your assets”. This ceremony became a feature at the opening of all subsequent offices of the Riordan legal practice.

As his legal practice flourished, Dad developed close business and often life-long friendships with young barristers such as Eugene Gorman, Murray McInerney and Richard McGarvie.

Dad was the inaugural secretary of the Goulburn Valley Law Association (GVLA), formed in 1948. Over many decades he was instrumental in establishing the GVLA as the most active law association in Victoria, particularly in his role as president of the legislation sub-committee. He passionately believed that lawyers had a responsibility to act as a watchdog for the public and to carefully vet new legislation to ensure the protection of civil liberties.

He continually pressed the Law Institute to comment robustly on proposed changes in statute law and believed that the Institute was “soft” in this regard. Finally, in desperation, the then secretary of the Institute, Arthur Heymanson, suggested that the GVLA should make submissions to the government in its own name. Dad welcomed this offer and adopted the tactic of obtaining copies of relevant Bills at an early stage and preparing detailed submissions which were then circulated to all members of Parliament in time for relevant party meetings. This modus operandi was most successful in achieving significant alterations to numerous vital pieces of legislation.

Dad was made an honorary life member of the Melbourne University Law Society in 1990. In 1995 the Law Institute presented him with a certificate of significant service to the Institute and the legal profession. He was honoured at the 1996 Law Institute annual dinner in recognition of the 60th anniversary of his admission as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Whatever his contribution to the law, my father’s greatest priority throughout his life was his devotion to his family. He was married to his beloved Clarisse for 64 years. His children loved and respected him as the greatest man we ever knew. He leaves behind 22 grandchildren who adored their “Papa” as a grandfather, friend and mentor.

Dad often said that the best way to bring good lawyers into his practice was to breed them. He was very proud of the fact that four of his six children joined his legal practice and learned the practice of law from him.

Dad retired from legal practice in September 1996 after completing 60 continuous years. He was enormously proud of the firm he had founded, which by the time of his retirement had grown into the largest legal firm in northern Victoria and had also established a significant presence in Melbourne. He derived great pleasure in recent years from his numerous visits to both the Melbourne and Shepparton offices, where he was always treated with reverence and respect. His great example as a lawyer, his strong ethics, his undoubted courage and his genuine, passionate concern for his staff ensured that he achieved legend status within the firm that he had started in 1936.

Dad would be particularly proud of the sentiments expressed in the following death notice:

“The partners and staff of Riordan & Partners deeply regret the passing of the esteemed and much loved founder of our firm. A lawyer of the highest calibre for over 60 years. A friend and mentor to so many. A wonderful man – a wonderful life!

Thank you JF – rest in peace.

Partners & staff, Riordan & Partners”.

Christopher Riordan

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