‘Mr Chairman’ still going strong

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He’s the chair extraordinaire. Tom Pryde’s past or present chairman of more than a dozen community groups. As he prepares to retire from about 50 years’ practising law, Philip Chandler tries to find out what makes him tick

No one could retire and still have more on their plate than Queenstowner Tom Pryde.

The fit-looking 71-year-old retires this month from half a century of practising law – all but two years for Cruickshank Pryde, which his father, who was also Tom Pryde, co-founded in Invercargill 80 years ago.

Given he’s heavily involved in about 10 community organisations, he says he’s only retiring from one thing.

Admittedly, that’s the one thing that paid him – “hopefully, I’ve accumulated enough to keep me afloat till I cark it”.

After attending law school and briefly practising in Dunedin, Pryde joined the family firm in December, 1970.

Still only 22, he was effectively lumped with running it before even becoming a partner.

“We’re getting past it, you call the shots,” partner George Cruickshank told him.

Though thrown in the deep end, Pryde says he enjoyed a great career.

Unlike big-city firms, you handled whatever came in the door – he took cases to the Privy Council and Court of Appeal and even did three murder trials.

He and his wife Margo moved to the Wakatipu 25 years ago, after she got itchy feet about moving to Arrowtown, where they had a holiday home – they subsequently bought at Kelvin Heights, then Lake Hayes.

For the first two or three years, Pryde practised out of the boot of his car before opening an office comprising former Southlanders.

However, despite the longevity of his legal career, it’s his sporting life that’s defined Pryde, earning him membership of the New Zealand Order of Merit, among many other honours.

A competitive swimmer from about eight, he later got into surf life saving and had roles with Southland’s Oreti Surf Life Saving Club.

He’s kept up his swimming and was one of the first people brave enough to swim from both Walter Peak and Cecil Peak into Queenstown Bay.

He also had 12 years playing senior rugby and was active in rugby administration – from about 1928, till recently, Southland Rugby Union’s solicitor was always a Tom Pryde.

Pryde’s best known for his pioneering roles in triathlon – in Southland, Queenstown, NZ and worldwide.

He and mate Barry Robertson competed in an early event in Nelson, in ’83, weeks before entering the first Coast to Coast, then subsequently organising the first Lake Hayes tri, which still runs today.

While president of Triathlon NZ, Pryde won the rights to host the world champs in Queenstown in 2003.

A condition of those champs was they had to include a disabled division.

Pryde says the problem was how to get disabled triathletes from the swim leg at Lake Hayes up to the showgrounds for the bike leg – he then had the brainwave to ask fellow Millbrook members to use golf carts to ferry them.

He’s chaired the Challenge Wanaka Trust, since the ironman event’s second year, and founded the Motatapu running/biking event from Wanaka to Arrowtown. In seeking overseas investment approval for Shania Twain and Mutt Lange to buy Motatapu and Soho stations, farmer Russell Hamilton thought allowing access once a year for an event would help appease public concerns – he asked Pryde to come up with that event, which is how Motatapu got going.

Pryde also played a prime role in convincing the council to take over the Snow Farm cross country skiing course on Mary and John Lee’s Cardrona property, then lease it back to a trust.

On the non-sporting front, he’s chaired the Paradise Trust, which he formed in ’98 at the request of dying property owner, friend David Miller – the trust nowadays runs an accommodation facility on the land, near Glenorchy.

He also chairs the unique Alexandra-based Living Options trust, which runs accommodation for the intellectually disabled, and is seeking to expand to Queenstown.

More recently, he’s been inaugural chair of the Wakatipu Wildlife Trust, which oversees predator-trapping groups.

Pryde says he’s got a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction out of these groups and others.

“I’ve made so many thousands of friends, and I’m lucky I’ve had a supportive family.”

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