Lecretia Seales: 'All's fair in love and war'

Lecretia Seales died in the public eye battling for voluntary euthanasia. A new book by her husband Matt Vickers lifts the lid on Lecretia's story and her legal fight. But, as these extracts show, he wants New Zealand to know that her life was more than just the campaign she waged in her final year.
Lecretia Seales with her husband Matt Vickers on their wedding day, April 2006. Photo / Supplied
Lecretia Seales with her husband Matt Vickers on their wedding day, April 2006. Photo / Supplied

I will always remember the sense of surprise and intensity of feeling when I first went out with Lecretia.

I had met her three days earlier. It was a Friday evening. I'd gone to an ex-girlfriend's farewell party at Hummingbird, a bar on Courtenay Place in Wellington.

My ex was moving back to Greece to start a job there. It was 7 July 2003 and I rather hoped she might return my Smiths CDs. I took a friend along with me, a guy named Rodney who drew cartoons.

I remember being immediately drawn to a woman sitting at the long table by the window. It was an hour past sunset, and the last light from behind the horizon was sustained by the glow of the streetlights.

She was sitting with a group of girlfriends who were in animated conversation. She would interject now and then, but mostly she smiled and laughed.

She wore a stylish leather jacket and her hair was tied in two braids. Her smile was generous and she was extraordinarily beautiful.

A waitress passed by me with a plate of thin fries balanced on a tray, clearly bound for these young women. As she passed, I reached out on a whim and took one, without the waitress noticing, and ate it, smiling at the braided woman as I did so.

This got their attention. They called out to me in indignation and I wandered over, apologising.

'I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.'

Bolstered by several beers' worth of courage, I sat down and introduced myself. I was still about three chairs away from the braided woman, who was clearly amused by me but didn't say very much. I stole glances at her as I talked to one of her friends. I learned that the women were mostly workmates from a Wellington law firm. They were all drinking champagne.

Now my friend Rodney joined us and we proceeded to banter with the girls. To my annoyance, Rodney sat next to the braided girl and was soon deep in conversation with her. After some time, and feeling envious, I reminded him that we were expected at another bar.

I wanted people to know how truly special she was, and how much of her life was a love story, and how much she achieved. Photo / Supplied
I wanted people to know how truly special she was, and how much of her life was a love story, and how much she achieved. Photo / Supplied

'I kind of had my eye on her,' I said, once we were out on the street.

'All's fair in love and war, mate. She gave me her card.'

'Seriously?'

At the new bar I tried to converse with Rodney's friends, but I couldn't take my mind off the woman at Hummingbird. After a drink or two, I slipped out unnoticed and headed back to Courtenay Place.

The girls were still there and I joined them, offering some excuse for Rodney's absence as I sat down next to the braided girl. We started to talk. She was a lawyer from Tauranga, in the Bay of Plenty, and her name was Lecretia.

'That's a lovely name,' I said.

She was tipsy, and so was I. And somehow, over several drinks, we ended up kissing there in the bar, in front of her amused friends and colleagues.

My phone beeped. It was a text from Rodney: 'Where are you?'

'All's fair in love and war,' I texted back.

I was still kissing Lecretia when Rodney arrived back at the bar. At this point Lecretia's friends had decided it was time to move on. We went around the corner to another bar on the pretext of dancing, but all that happened was I ended up kissing Lecretia some more.

Finally Lecretia's friends decided it was time to call it a night. They piled into a cab, and Rodney and I hopped into a taxi up to Mount Victoria, in search of another party.

'You owe me one'

I Woke the next day with a hangover, and thinking of Lecretia - who was that girl I'd kissed last night? I had enjoyed kissing her so much. I was already smitten.

I didn't know her last name, so I googled her. 'Lecretia, lawyer, Wellington.' I found her almost immediately.

Lecretia Seales was an associate at Chen Palmer & Partners in Wellington. I looked at her picture. She was as beautiful as I remembered. I needed to see her again.

But her contact details weren't on the website.

I called Rodney, remembering he had her card. 'I need Lecretia's contact details.'

'I'm still upset with you.'

'Look, I need to ask this girl out. We kissed. If she says no, you can ask her out.'

'You owe me one,' he said.

Now I had her work number and her email address. On Sunday, after I had recovered from my hangover, I decided to write to her.

hello lecretia ...

We met on friday, at hummingbird ... we were all very badly behaved and i am sure that if there is an afterlife, we will be called to account for it ... after i left you outside hummingbird, i went to a party in mt. victoria somewhere where i tried to convince the revellers that i was an idiot savant ... it didn't really work out ... in the morning (or rather, early afternoon), i awoke with a splitting headache and a great deal of moral guilt ... but that's bohemianism for you ... it's all about the present, and never the consequences ...

speaking of consequences: the consequence of giving me your business card is this missive ... i would like the chance to meet you in a less bacchanalian environment ... i'm not normally so crass and bold ... i am usually a gentle creature of forethought and passion ... well, maybe ... do you have a cellular phone by which i could reach you?

... i could call you at work, but i would prefer not to ... in any case, it was a pleasure to meet you ... i hope to hear from you ...

Matt

At the time I was halfway through a writing degree, and my supervisor still had some way to go to knock all of the pretentiousness out of me. I thought the use of lower case and ellipses to string fragments of sentences together was very sophisticated - as though I was too nonchalant and freewheeling for the jolt of a full stop.

And of course she hadn't given me her business card - she'd given it to Rodney.

I hoped she wouldn't remember that detail.

A few hours later I called her work number, too, not expecting her to answer it on a Sunday. But she did answer. Lecretia was in her office, perhaps as penance for her Friday night.

'Hello, is Lecretia there?'

A pause. 'Speaking.'

'Hi, it's Matt. We met on Friday.'

'Yes, I remember.'

'How are you? I had a bit of a hangover yesterday.'

'So did I. I blame you for that.'

'Well, in my defence, you were well on your way before I arrived.'

'H mph.'

'I sent you an email.'

'Yes, I saw it.'

'I would really like to see you again.'

'Would you?'

'I would. How about tomorrow night? Let's have a quiet drink and see how it goes.'

A pause again. 'I'm not sure that's a good idea.'

'I'm not like this usually, and I'm sure you're not either.

Why don't we just see? What have you got to lose?'

One more pause. 'Okay.'

'Great! I'll email you tomorrow with details. Looking forward to it!'

'Bye.'

'Bye!'

Lecretia Seales with her husband Matt Vickers in 2010. Photo / Supplied
Lecretia Seales with her husband Matt Vickers in 2010. Photo / Supplied

I decided to take her to a tapas bar in the centre of Wellington. I couldn't believe she'd agreed. I wore jeans and a new shirt with hand-painted leaves on it. I was more excited than I had been about any date in a long time.

I was the first to arrive. When Lecretia appeared, I was taken aback at how beautiful she was. She had long brown hair, tan skin, beautiful eyes and the sunniest smile you'd ever seen. She was still dressed in her office clothes, and it being winter she was wearing a long coat. Though she was demurely dressed, her allure was hard to conceal.

Her complexion suggested an exotic heritage. Was she Italian, or Spanish, or Maori? I was intrigued.

We sat in the back of the bar, and after some awkward chat about Friday night, we began to talk. It turned out Lecretia was older than me. She had just turned thirty, while I was twenty-six.

Taciturn but alluring

Lecretia had grown up in Tauranga, the eldest child born to young parents, Larry and Shirley, with two younger siblings, Jeremy and Kat. They weren't wealthy, but they were a loving family, and Lecretia's parents made all the sacrifices they could for their children's education.

Her family came from English and German stock, with a dash of Irish, but there was also Fijian blood, and along the line a Cuban sailor of Spanish extraction.

She excelled at school, and came to Victoria University in Wellington to study law, where she also shone.

She specialised in public and constitutional law. She told me about her lecturers, the most formidable being Sir Geoffrey Palmer, the former Labour prime minister.

Lecretia Seales' bar admission with her friend Helen Spellacey. Photo / Supplied
Lecretia Seales' bar admission with her friend Helen Spellacey. Photo / Supplied

Sir Geoffrey had a seating plan for the lecture theatre and knew exactly where everyone was sitting, so that he could question particular students and reprimand them if they hadn't done their reading.

After three years as a young solicitor at Kensington Swan, she left for London in early 2000. She worked there for a couple of years, and travelled widely in Europe. Back in New Zealand she secured a role at Chen Palmer & Partners, a boutique public law firm started by Sir Geoffrey and Mai Chen, also a former law lecturer.

Sir Geoffrey saw Lecretia's potential and took her under his wing. She became one of his associates, a role in which she flourished.

I shared her modest beginnings, having grown up in the poorest suburbs of 1970s Gisborne and later on the outskirts of Napier, a few hours' drive south-east of Tauranga.

My father was a joiner, making cabinets and furniture. He was a talented woodworker, and built two of his own houses. He later joined the public service as a property valuer.

After my mother had me, she stopped working as an office assistant and became a homemaker, raising me and my younger sister, Natalie.

Where Lecretia had pursued the law, I pursued literature. Though she was only three-and-a-half years older than me, she seemed privy to truths I had yet to encounter, and I found her aura of worldly experience captivating.

Like me, Lecretia wasn't the sort of person to go on about whatever popped into her head. She was a quiet and considered conversationalist who enjoyed the thoughtful exchange of opinions and ideas.

Her taciturn nature made her all the more alluring; getting to know her was like investigating a mystery I would never quite be able to solve, no matter how many questions I asked.

Matthew Vickers wants New Zealand to know that Lecretia Seales' life was more than just the campaign she waged in her final year. Photo / Supplied
Matthew Vickers wants New Zealand to know that Lecretia Seales' life was more than just the campaign she waged in her final year. Photo / Supplied

I took a chance and asked her to dinner that night, expecting this intriguing woman who was clearly out of my league to say no, but she said yes. We wandered down the street to a Mexican restaurant, and ate quesadillas and drank mescal.

We went from there to Good Luck, one of my favourite bars at the time. I flirted with her in earnest there, teasing her and letting her tease me.

Afterwards we walked down to the waterfront. It was a crisp, cold, clear winter night and the stars were out and shining. She was smiling, snug in her overcoat, and her bright eyes shone in the darkness. I took a chance and kissed her, and to my delight she responded.

Then she pulled away, protesting that she had work tomorrow, but thanking me for the evening. I stood and watched her walk away.

I was so incredulous that this exceptional woman had let me kiss her again that I began to wonder what was wrong with her. My lips tingled with the touch of hers and my breath steamed in the cold air.

In the wake of Lecretia's death

In the days that followed, I felt the intense scrutiny of the country and the world on us. The delivery of the judgment and my wife's passing were like a great rock thrown into water, sending waves rippling outward.

At the crest of every ripple, people were making their own judgments, asking their own questions, drawing conclusions.

I understood then that for many people the most significant day in my wife's short life was her last day. Her wedding day, her graduation, her first steps: these were the special memories of a select few.

Most would remember Lecretia for the day she died, and the judgment she received on that day.

And I wasn't really prepared for that. I wasn't prepared for people to see my wife's life as a tragedy. Because so much of it wasn't.

After Lecretia died, on the day the High Court ruled against her right to choose how her life ended, I was afraid that everything about her would be reduced to this single event.

I wanted people to know how truly special she was, and how much of her life was a love story, and how much she achieved. I wanted all the sadness to be an epilogue, and not the climax.

Parliamentary Inquiry

A petition to hold a parliamentary inquiry into euthanasia has drawn more than 21,000 submissions from across New Zealand.

More than 1800 want to be heard in person forcing MPs to offer a roadshow of hearings to allow as many people as possible to appear.

Locations and times for those hearings are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.

Seales, a New Zealand lawyer, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2011. While undergoing treatment she launched legal action in the High Court to challenge for her right to die with assistance of her GP in 2015.

She died on June 5 that year - the day after her family received a High Court ruling rejecting her bid.

Lecretia Seales in Aitutaki, Cook Islands. Photo / Supplied
Lecretia Seales in Aitutaki, Cook Islands. Photo / Supplied

Book launch and memorial lecture

Lecretia's Choice - A Story of Life, Death and the Law will be launched at Parliament on Monday, August 29 at an event hosted by the Hon Nikki Kaye MP. It will be combined with the inaugural Lecretia Seales Memorial Lecture in Law Reform, which will be delivered by Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC.

Matt Vickers is also appearing at Unity Books, Willis St, Wellington on August 30 and Women's Bookshop, Ponsonby Rd, Auckland on September 1.

- NZ Herald

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