Our People: Coroner Wallace Bain

By Jill Nicholas

Variety, Bay of Plenty coroner Dr Wallace Bain tells us, is the spice of life.

If anyone knows a thing or two about variety it's Dr Bain.

His career's encompassed pharmacy and law culminating in a doctorate in Medico Pharmacy law.

And when it comes to assessing our national sport he's no an armchair critic, he's the real deal. He's played at senior club level, chaired the NZRFU's Super 10 and Super 12 judicial committees and, in the lead-up to the 2003 and 2007 World Cups was an IRB judicial commissioner. Commentators regularly seek him out for his expertise.

He's had first-hand local body experience, serving a term as Waitomo mayor in the mid 1990s, has owned three pharmacies and had a foot in the corporate camp, as chairman of directors of two pharmaceutical companies.

Then there's Wallace Bain the author. In the early 1980s the mad-keen trout fisherman co-authored Tongariro River and Lake Taupo's Southern Shores. He classifies it as an 'ABC of how to fish the area'. The first print run of 5000 sold out, ditto a second of 3000. He muses it's probably due for an update.

Being busy is integrated into his psyche. He was heavily involved in the restructuring of the coronial reforms that

introduced 16 full-time coroners country-wide. At the time of his present appointment he was the King Country-Taupo coroner.

The Bay of Plenty job's far bigger. When he arrived in Rotorua he was faced with a backlog of 380 cases and he's picking he'll have dealt with 450 by this year's end.

To the onlooker the coroner's role was tailor made for Wallace Bain who specialised in medical and pharmaceutical law, lecturing on it nationally and internationally and who's description of himself is a 'people


Bereaved families facing the stress of an inquest find his professionalism tempered with compassion. Outside

the courtroom he's witty and entertaining.

But don't be fooled into assuming he's all `Mr Nice Guy'; he has no time for bureaucratic shilly-shallying, acknowledging he doesn't "muck around''.

When the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) took eight years "looking at'' aerial topdressing pilot fatigue Dr Bain

delivered a bollocking that galvanised officialdom into action. Following a string of State Highway 30 fatalities on

one-way bridges his criticisms saw them widened.

He's presently plugging for action in areas as diverse as parent-infant co-sleeping, water safety and hunting. "Yes,

it is frustrating when recommendations aren't acted on, especially as it's a coroner's job to help prevent future deaths in similar circumstances.''

What of this high achiever's early years?

The son of a pharmacist (his father, Athol Bain, was the country's oldest registered pharmacist when he died last year aged 94), Wallace studied pharmacy not because his father insisted on it, rather that he'd been in the science stream at Hamilton Boys' High. Principal Aubrey Baigent was the first non-family member to have a profound influence on him. He reflects that it was Baigent who steered him away from surfing and sport to become more academically inclined.

"During the 7th form he asked me to come back for another year as head boy, I guess he recognised I had leadership potential.''

His second mentor was Pharmacy School chemistry professor, later Dean, Don Griffin. "He had an enormous influence on me, not just as a teacher but as my rugby coach, he taught me valuable life-winning skills.''

Wallace Bain played hooker in the Petone Pharmacy Team. "That was probably the most memorable time of my life belonging to this wonderful working men's club.''

Wallace and his wife to wife-to-be, Juliet, became 'an item' at Pharmacy College. One thing Wallace has never been is work shy. In the early days of his marriage he had three jobs _ sole charge of a Pakaranga Pharmacy, coaching science and maths students and at a KFC outlet "where I really learnt what life was about.'' He also did

regular night pharmacy stints.

However, he'd always had a hankering for the law, his late mother Mollie (nee Speakman) was New Zealand's first woman detective.

It was during the second Arthur Allan Thomas (murder) trial that his attention became focused on a law degree.

He dropped into the trial to watch the judicial system in action.

Three years on he graduated from Otago University with first class honours.

Before starting as a fully-fledged lawyer he was back behind a dispensary bench as a locum pharmacist close to

his employers-to-be, Hamilton law firm McCaw Smith and Arcus. "I closed the door of the pharmacy where I'd been

earning $100 a day at 9pm on a Friday night and went upstairs on Monday morning for my first job as a lawyer to learn I'd be on $88 net a week.''

He describes the following two years as "unbelievable training'', but when a Te Kuiti lawyer offered him a job in 1980 he didn't hesitate. "My wife was from a farming family in the area, I loved the outdoors, I thought I'd go for a year to 18 months, but remained until I came here [Rotorua] in 2007.''

Over those years he was a partner in what became Lamb Thomas & Bain, working across the legal board, before

specialising in medical law.

Te Kuiti introduced him to King Country rugby _ he chaired the Pio Pio club for close to a decade. "We brought in some overseas players, got to be the area's champion team.''

So what's Wallace Bain's analysis of Wallace Bain?

"I'm just an ordinary Kiwi bloke who views the glass as half full even if it's empty; I'm equally happy rubbing shoulders with scrub cutters or judges.''


Born: Hamilton, 1950

Education: Whitiora and Woodstock Primaries, Southwell, Hamilton Boys' High, Pharmacy School Wellington, Otago University

Degrees obtained: Ph.D., LL.B(Hons); Dip.Pharm; M.P.S.; RegPharmNZ; F.Inst.D; AAMINZ To translate, that's Doctor of Philosophy, Bachelor of laws 1st Class, Diploma in Pharmacy, Member of the Pharmaceutical Society of NZ, Registered Pharmacist in NZ, Fellow of the Institute of Directors, Associate of Arbitrators and Mediators Institute of NZ and Associate of the American Society of Law Medicine and Ethics

Family: Wife Juliet, son Lyndon, daughter Catherine

Interests: Family, sport especially trout fishing and rugby, growing tomatoes and making own relish, cooking, developing own recipes, analysing financial markets, playing the organ

On the sensitive nature of his job: "I'm there to help families, I bring them forward to take part, that's the power of the inquisitorial process, you can't do that in the advocacy process.''

Personal Philosophy: "Do what you love, prepare well, do it well, the rest will follow.''

- Rotorua Daily Post

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