Arrowtowner Simon Stamers-Smith is a colourful councillor, lover of the arts and veteran skier. Until Friday before last, he was also a lawyer. He discusses his life and times with Philip Chandler
A self-confessed bon viveur, Simon Stamers-Smith admits his future career was determined by a conversation in a pub.
He’d been bright enough to pass a university English paper while still at school in Christchurch, but had no idea what his vocation would be.
“A great friend and I were in the pub one night and he said, ‘Simon, you’ve got the sort of brain and you talk like somebody who’s a lawyer, why don’t you bloody well become one?'”
Fast-forward to Friday before last, on his final day practising law, and Stamers-Smith - seated at his office in the Queenstown branch of Cruickshank Pryde - reflects on a 54-year career.
After initially working as a law clerk he recalls taking his first lawyer’s job in Dunedin in the late 1960s when, newly-married to Mary, he earned $26 a week.
He joined Wynn Williams & Co in Christchurch in 1970, ostensibly to do court work, but the firm had high-calibre partners who later became High Court judges so he moved into conveyancing, estates and commercial practice instead.
After 13 years as a partner, he moved to Queenstown in 1985 to work with local lawyer Revell Buckham, who’s still practising.
Buckham’s former partner, the late Alastair Watson, was moving back to Christchurch and he’d suggested Stamers-Smith, being an ‘old Queenstowner’ take his place.
“I thought, well, that’s a good idea.”
Stamers-Smith’s illustrious great-great-grandfather Bendix Hallenstein had been Queenstown’s second mayor and his family had always had a holiday home in the resort.
He’d also had a long connection with Coronet Peak, learning to ski there with his sister in 1948, the year after it opened.
“I remember my mother skied with us, too, and the day that I passed her, she said ‘I’m giving this up’ and she never skied again.”
A South Island junior champion and Wakatipu Ski Club champion, Stamers-Smith recalls skiing for the New Zealand Universities team which beat its Australian counterparts at Coronet Peak in 1961.
“We would take the Aussies up skiing and we’d stop at the [former Arthurs Point Hotel] and then we’d have a few pints then we’d go up and bloody race, which helped.”
Coming to Queenstown to live, Stamers-Smith worked with then partnered Buckham for 13 years, during when the firm merged with Berry & Co.
He then went out on his own for 10 years as Stamers-Smith Law.
“I stopped practising on my own when they brought in the new rules and regulations, it was just a nightmare.”
Tom Pryde, he says, kindly took him on at Cruickshank Pryde, where he’s practised as a senior consultant since 2008.
After arriving to live in Queenstown, Stamers-Smith made a name for himself as a Mountain Scene columnist, initially with a law column, then with a pithy piece dubbed ‘Simon Says’.
Ironically, his Arrowtown daughter Bec Stanley, a 2014 MasterChef NZ finalist, now writes a cooking column for the Scene - “she probably writes better than I do”, he quips.
An arts lover, he was a trustee of the Queenstown Community Arts Trust, which unsuccessfully tried to develop an arts centre.
However he’s best known as a councillor for the past six years, after a failed campaign many years earlier.
Though now 73, he says he’s standing again this October because of the prospect of mayoral candidate and local businessman Jim Boult winning the mayoralty.
“I like his ideas, and it will be very interesting to see what he can do with all the problems that are presently around.”
Stamers-Smith says he likes to think he adds a bit of common sense to the council table: “I, for one, have always been a believer that council should in fact move [its offices] to Frankton, but I’m of course outnumbered 10 to one.”
He also likes to leaven proceedings with a bit of humour but says “it’s difficult because of course a lot of the councillors don’t appreciate humour”.
Now he’s retired from law, Stamers-Smith says he’ll be able to give more time to council “and hopefully get my golf handicap down from its present high rate to something quite low”.
And though he’s no longer got his practising certificate, he says “if people need any help, I can come in and help - I’ll become a law clerk”.