OWLS Life Membership
OWLS may bestow life membership upon a person in recognition of meritorious work in any field. In practice, life membership has been accorded to women whose careers have broken barriers, who have inspired and assisted other women to achieve in their own legal careers, and those who have served the legal community and, in particular, OWLS.
Since 2006, an owl brooch (designed and beautifully produced by Dunedin goldsmith Tony Williams) has been presented to life members. A brooch is also presented to speakers at the New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Address.
OWLS Life Members
OWLS Life Memberships have been awarded to the following outstanding women:
1. Margaret Mackay
- Margaret worked as a junior typist in her uncle’s Oamaru law firm, Grave & Grave, and studied law by correspondence. In 1929, she became the second woman, after Ethel Benjamin, to be admitted to the Bar in Dunedin and was subsequently promoted to the position of managing clerk. In 1946, 17 years after her admission, she became a partner in Lee, Grave & Zimmerman, but opposition from one partner was so strong that her name was not added to the partnership list until his retirement in 1961. Margaret died in 1998, aged 95. Her contribution to women in the law in Otago is preserved as part of the suffrage year oral history project.*
Margaret was awarded life membership in recognition of her pioneering legal career, which assisted to pave the way for those who followed her.
2. Marion Thomson
- Marion (nee Robertson) was born and educated in Dunedin. She left high school in 1927 after 2 years and worked for 11 years for Sievwright, James and Nichol as a typist. At the same time she matriculated to University through evening classes, graduating from Otago University in 1937 as the 4th women to take an LLB degree. Marriage in 1937 (a time when married women were expected to relinquish employment) and family commitments delayed her admission to the bar until 1961 and she practised at Rutherford McKinnon and Neil from that time until 1979. Marion addressed the first meeting of OWLS and has been a member since 1986. Her contribution to women in the law in Otago is preserved as part of the suffrage year oral history project.*
Marion’s life membership recognised the struggle undertaken by her to establish women lawyers as members of the profession, her support for women lawyers who followed her, and her assistance and support in the establishment of OWLS. Marion died in 2007 at the age of 95. She left her owl brooch to OWLS, and it is now worn by the Convenor on special occasions.
3. Silvia Cartwright, PCNZM, DBE, QSO, DStJ
- Dame Silvia (nee Poulter) was born and educated in Dunedin, completing her LLB at Otago in 1966. She was admitted as a solicitor in 1967 and a barrister in 1968. Dame Silvia became a partner in Harkness Henry (Hamilton) in 1971, a district court judge in 1981, the first female Chief District Court Judge in 1989 and was elevated to the High Court as its first female member in 1993. She has also been awarded honorary Doctorates by Otago and Waikato Universities. Dame Silvia was the Governor-General of New Zealand for five years between April 2001 and August 2006.*
Dame Silvia was awarded life membership to mark her outstanding achievements as a woman lawyer, and her support for her fellow female practitioners.
4. Annis Somerville
- Annis was born in Lawrence and educated largely in Oamaru, taking her LLB degree from the University of Otago. She was admitted in 1978 and practised in Dunedin. She was a founding member of OWLS (1986), President of the ODLS (1996) and Chair of the NZLS Family Law Section (1999) before being appointed to the bench in 2001. Judge Somerville is of Kai Tahu and Scottish descent and was the first Maori Family Court Judge to be appointed in New Zealand.*
Judge Somerville’s award recognises her achievements as a woman in law, her role in the establishment of OWLS, and the influence that she has had on women in law in Otago.
5. Rosemary Riddell
- Rosemary was born and educated and first practiced in Auckland. She came to the law after working for a number of years in broadcasting and public relations, and was admitted in 1992. In 1997 she moved to Dunedin to join Gallaway Haggitt Sinclair (now Gallaway Cook Allan), where she made a career in family law. She became a partner in 1999, was a Convenor of OWLS, and was a Council member of the Otago District Law Society. She was appointed to the Family Court bench in 2006. Judge Riddell is actively involved in theatre as both an actor and director.
Life membership was awarded to Judge Riddell to recognise the influence that she has had on women in law in Otago.
6. Janet November
- Janet was born and educated in England (taking a degree in Russian at Nottingham University in 1968). In 1980, she and her family moved to Australia, where she completed her LLB at Melbourne University and worked in a variety of legal jobs. In 1987, the family moved to New Zealand and Janet completed her LLM at Victoria University. She has written two legal texts, and also contributes to the Laws of New Zealand. Since 2001, she has worked as a Senior Legal and Policy Adviser at the Law Commission. After being intrigued by an old photograph of a young woman lawyer in Law Talk in 1996, Janet embarked upon a labour of love that culminated in the 2009 publication of “In the footsteps of Ethel Benjamin”.
Janet’s award is a mark of OWLS’ appreciation for the work that she has done to illuminate the life of Ethel Benjamin.
7. Donna Buckingham
- Donna was born in Invercargill and took her degrees from the University of Otago. After a short time in practice, she joined the Law Faculty of the University of Otago where she became an Associate Professor. Donna was appointed as a Law Commissioner in 2016 for a five-year term. Donna was a founding member of OWLS and served as its Convenor in 1987 and in 2005. She was a council member and was the president of the Otago Branch Council of the New Zealand Law Society in 2012. She is also the Director of the New Zealand Legal Information Institute (NZLII) which is the largest free online publisher of New Zealand’s legal information.
Donna’s life membership was awarded to her on the 25th Anniversary of OWLS incorporation in recognition of the fact that she is an inspirational teacher and mentor who has given many years of service to OWLS and the wider legal and academic communities.
- Kate was born in Gore in 1951 and moved to Invercargill when she was five years old. After completing her secondary education at St Catherine’s College in Invercargill, she studied for a law degree at the University of Otago. She graduated LLB (Hons) in 1974 and was awarded the Sir Joshua Williams Memorial Prize. Kate began her legal career in Dunedin at Ross Dowling Marquet Griffin where she spent 27 years, becoming a partner in 1982. In 2001 she joined Anderson Lloyd, initially as a consultant, becoming a partner in 2004, and retiring in 2013. Kate’s passion is property law and trusts and she has worked principally in these fields throughout her career. She has a special interest in Family Trusts and asset protection. In 1984 Kate was the first woman to be elected to the Otago District Law Society Council and was its first female president (1990). She served on the Council and Executive of the New Zealand Law Society (1989-1991), and was a member of the Executive of the NZLS Property Law Section from 2000 until 2003. From 1998 until 2013 Kate was a member of the NZLS Land Titles Committee and she worked with LINZ to develop and implement the current electronic land title system. Kate has had a long and successful career and at the time of her retirement was Otago’s longest serving female lawyer.
Kate was awarded a life membership at the 2013 OWLS AGM in recognition of her lengthy legal career, her pioneering spirit, and her advancement of other women in the profession.
- Judith was born in Invercargill and studied an MA at the University of Otago before undertaking her law degree in 1972. Judith’s legal career started at Cook Allan & Co in 1975 and within five years she was made a partner. Judith was one of the first women in Otago to reach this milestone. In 1986 she set up her own practice and, along with some other female lawyers, founded OWLS. Judith has been a member of OWLS ever since. Judith won the 1988 New Zealand Mastermind television contest which was a springboard for many more achievements, particularly in her University career. Judith served on the University Council for 13 years, six of those as Chancellor. In 1998 Judith was recognised with the Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit and a Doctorate of Law (Honoris Causa). She later (in 2004) went on to deliver the Guest Memorial Lecture at the University of Otago. Judith has been a speaker and presenter at many events including significant involvement in many charitable debates and she has also served on many community Boards. She continues to be an active Trustee for the Ashburn Hall Charitable Trust. Judith has practiced law for an impressive 39 years and continues her legal work to this day.
Judith was awarded a Life Membership at the 2014 OWLS AGM as one of the founding members of OWLS and in recognition of her lengthy career, during which she broke through gender barriers and assisted other women to achieve success in their own legal careers.
* Reproduced by permission of the Otago Branch, NZLS, from “Occupied Lawfully” (2006).
10. Nicola Peart
- Nicola graduated from Leiden University with a law degree majoring in International Law and completed an LLM in African Customary Law at the University of Cape Town. She commenced her academic career in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cape Town where she taught Roman Law, Private law and European Union Law. She immigrated to New Zealand in 1986. After a year of study at the University of Otago she took up a lectureship in the Law Faculty in 1987, where she taught Property Law, Wills and Trusts and Advanced Family Property Law and provided some teaching in medical law to medical students and supervised postgraduate students in the Law Faculty and the Otago Bioethics Centre doing research in medical law. In 2023 Nicola delivers succession law lectures as part of Property Law and take tutorials in that paper.
Nicola was awarded a Life Membership at the 2023 OWLS AGM in recognition of her lengthy career, her contribution to legal research, the law and the legal profession, and her unwavering support of OWLS. We also acknowledge Nicola in delivering the 2017 New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Addresses.