A big gathering of the Bay's legal fraternity will today farewell District Court judge Robert (Bob) Wolff who died at home in Bethlehem on Monday aged 65.

Much admired for his wry sense of humour and wisdom, Wolff presided in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty for 24 years.

Fellow Tauranga District Court judge Thomas Ingram said Wolff's ability to sum up complex matters in a few words was legendary.

''It stood him in very good stead as a jury court judge.''


Judge Ingram said he had not known anyone else with the ability to simplify complex cases to the same extent as Wolff.

''He was a master at putting it across succinctly, accurately and, surprisingly often, humorously.''

Wolff suffered a debilitating muscular illness about three and a half years ago, struggling in considerable pain.

Judge Ingram said that no sooner had he got through the illness than he suffered a serious heart attack that resulted in a reduced heart function.

He returned to work from time to time during these years until he retired.

One of Wolff's high profile cases was handling the Environment Court prosecutions arising from the Rena container ship hitting Astrolabe Reef.

Judge Ingram said it was a big task to co-ordinate the prosecutions because it was a foreign owner and insurance company.

''He moved a large and difficult case through expeditiously ... he avoided a complex and expensive trial by careful management of the files.''


Judge Ingram described Wolff as a man of considerable intellectual ability who always sought to understand the reasons in order to fix the causes of what brought a case to court.

The causes of the Rena grounding lay with the operational procedures of the vessel. Once he figured that out, he was able to get everybody to enter guilty pleas, Judge Ingram said.

Robert Wolff was born in South Africa, arriving in New Zealand with his parents to a farm near Taihape in 1956. He spent much of his early years in boarding schools before studying law at Otago University.

Lawyer Glenn Dixon, formerly of Tauranga, was a friend who enjoyed mountain biking with Wolff.

''We spent a lot of time mountain biking at various places around New Zealand.''

Dixon said his friend had a very strong sense of justice for everyone who appeared before him.

Tauranga barrister Tony Balme said Wolff was also a wonderful after-dinner speaker and raconteur.

''He could really tell some wonderful tales - from the trenches as it were.''

Balme first met him in Napier when Wolff was one of only two barristers exclusively working on instruction from legal firms. The other barrister was Rod Gallen who went on to become a High Court judge.

Gallen and Wolff's paths crossed later in Hamilton when Gallen was sitting in the High Court and Wolff had just been appointed to the bench.

''He was a guy I looked up to and tried to learn from,'' Balme said, looking back to the early years of his career in Napier.

He described Wolff as a very collegial man who, even although he was a judge, enjoyed the camaraderie of the legal profession.

''The best judges are humble people and he certainly had that humility. It was a fine quality.''

Robert Patrick Wolff is survived by his ''soulmate'' Debbie and was father to Amy, Michael and Emma. A celebration of his life takes place today at Tauranga Park at 1.30pm.