A deserved retirement: Kay Edwards is two weeks away from putting her feet up

New Zealand still had 6 o’clock closing and Keith Holyoake was Prime Minister when
Kay Edwards started a legal career now in its seventh decade. She talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about why she’s pulling pin, the people and firms she’s worked for and why she hasn’t got fond memories of a Beach Boys concert

You’d think she’s set some sort of record.

When Queenstown legal executive Kay Edwards retires June 30, it’ll be 58 years since she started, aged only 16, as a legal secretary in Dunedin.

In that time she’s only had two short breaks — after moving to Queenstown in ’76 and when she initially retired about six years ago, before working again, this time part-time, for Arrowtown lawyer Bob Craigie.

Despite taking a commercial course at Dunedin’s King Edward Technical College and learning shorthand for three years, Edwards says she had no idea what she’d do for work.

However she was lined up an interview with law firm Ferens & Jeavons, and ended up working for renowned criminal lawyer Alf Jeavons as a shorthand typist.

He’d dictate letters and she’d type them from her shorthand.

Using a manual typewriter to type up a will was challenging, she says, because you’d have to start again if you made a mistake.

In 1970, the firm amalgamated with another and became Anderson Lloyd Jeavons & Wilkinson.

In ’75, Edwards was among NZ’s first legal secretaries to become legal executives.

After moving to Queenstown with her then-husband, who bought three Kelvin Heights
sections, she took a break then worked in the office of Frankton’s Europa service station.

She was then approached to work for Anderson Lloyd’s Lloyd White, then the town’s only lawyer, who operated out of an old cottage in The Mall.

A very competent lawyer, he was also notoriously fond of a tipple.

‘‘He used to keep supplies in the drawer, and I used to come in, in the morning, get the bottle and tip it down the sink.

‘‘He never said a word but the next day there’d be another one.’’

Edwards recalls ‘‘little episodes’’ where he’d go to hospital.

‘‘I would sort of be running the office but with the manual phone exchange I’d say, ‘I’m
going home, any calls for Lloyd White’s office, just transfer them to 774S’.’’

After White retired in ’82, Anderson Lloyd started grow ing, and in ’86 the premises were redeveloped.

Aside from her legal work, specialising in conveyancing and property transactions, Edwards was also office manager.

‘‘I remember when the first computer came, it was huge, they delivered it to home and I had no idea how to even turn it on.’’

After the office shifted to Marine Parade, where Botswana Butchery now is, it was inundated in the flood of ’99, and Edwards oversaw the move into temporary premises,  then the move back again.

Not long after she left to work for Craigielaw in Arrowtown, but didn’t last long as she felt cut off working there.

Edwards then had a long stint working for Phil Wilson after he opened Queenstown’s AWS
Legal office — and again over saw an office shift.

She then briefly worked for Christchurch’s Cavell Leitch, when it set up here, then retired
for the first time.

However she got bored and rejoined Craigielaw, working three days a week.

Edwards says she’s thorough ly enjoyed her career — ‘‘every transaction is different, plus you have to keep learning because they keep changing the legislation’’.

However, she admits law used to be very much a man’s world.

‘‘That’s really one of the reasons I never got around to doing a law degree — women weren’t really treated that well, and have had to fight for their positions.’’

Her latest retirement’s going to be more permanent — ‘‘I just think I need to enjoy life and do the things I want to do’’.

At 74, she also says ‘‘you’re not as alert, the older you get’’.

Fortunately, she’s not lacking in interests, including gardening, tramping, e-biking, and her
long involvement with women’s service club, Altrusa and, more recently, RSA.

She also enjoyed working with Search & Rescue, playing an exhausting role, with many,
in the search for missing Israeli tramper Liat Okin in 2008.

A more forgettable incident came when she broke her Achilles dancing to the Beach Boys at a Millbrook concert, and was removed in a golf cart.

‘‘When I arrived at Invercargill hospital, people in A&E said, ‘were you at that concert yesterday? We saw you’.’’