For almost 50 years Michael Cooney has led from the front, making his mark on Tauranga's legal fraternity, business community and the city itself.

After a stellar career at leading Bay of Plenty law firm Cooney Lees Morgan, founded 100 years ago by his grandfather, Cooney has now officially retired.

During that time he has served as Tauranga's Coroner, overseen the establishment of Aquinas College, and chaired Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust (TECT), which provided pivotal funding for Waipuna Hospice, Trustpower Arena, Baywave Aquatic and Leisure Centre and the TECT All Terrain Park, among other high-profile community assets.

Law firm partner Owen Cooney said whatever Michael decided to turn his mind to he gave 100 per cent, excelling at whatever it was, whether it be work, community or family matters.


In recognition of his service to the community Cooney was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2013 and was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship by Rotary International.

Owen said the partners of Cooney Lees Morgan had always made strong contributions to the community.

"Michael's grandfather HO Cooney had a hand in establishing the Port of Tauranga and Lionel Lees was involved in the power generation scheme which was the forerunner of Trustpower.

"Our firm's other name partner, Ed Morgan, earned an MBE for championing Māori interests. He helped set up the Tauranga Moana Maori Trust Board, was involved in the return of Mt Taranaki and helped iwi obtain some control of the Whanganui River.

"Michael is right up there in terms of his massive contribution to the community and has really set the bar very high for the younger partners of Cooney Lees Morgan to step up to."

Owen said a love of the law, strong work ethic and a commitment to helping others seemed to be traits that ran in the Cooney family.

"The old Irish blood is in there, that determination and pioneering spirit. But Michael has certainly taken that to the next level."

After graduating from Auckland University and being admitted to the bar in 1966, Cooney moved home to Tauranga to join the family firm in 1970 alongside his father, uncle and brother. He became a partner two years later.


Property and contract law became his areas of expertise, and current CLM Partner Sally Powdrell said Cooney was known as an astute and tough negotiator who fought hard to advance his clients' best interests.

"He has been a real devotee of the law. He has always been respected by the legal community both locally and nationally as a lawyer of high standing."

Owen said it was particularly fitting that Cooney chose to retire on June 1.

"He has always had a large number of dairy farming clients and of course June 1 is what is known as Gypsy Day. I recall as a younger partner back in the day, that Michael would be up to his ears in dairy farm settlements come June 1 and it was always a very big part of our firm's business at that time of year."

He is a self-proclaimed "passionate Bay boy" and has served in many high-profile roles including 13 years as chairman of TECT where he oversaw the distribution of millions of dollars to fund community projects including sponsorship of the Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter and Tauranga Coastguard's rescue vessel.

For 30 years he presided over thousands of inquests as Tauranga's Coroner and was a founding member of the Life Education Trust in the Western Bay of Plenty in 1987, for which he was later awarded life membership.


However he counts his role in helping to establish Tauranga's Aquinas College among his most satisfying contributions.

"The opportunity to work with young people, and advance their careers, is a wonderful thing to take part in," he said at the time.

He went on to serve as a Board of Trustees member at Aquinas and Tauranga's St Mary's Catholic School, and acted as solicitor to the Bishop for the Catholic Diocese of Hamilton.

Other notable achievements include serving as a Director of Trustpower for 12 years and Chairman of Equality Bay of Plenty – a charitable trust offering support for people with disabilities.

The keen sportsman also managed to squeeze in many years of coaching junior netball and tennis.

The man himself is looking forward to the next phase in life, and plans to travel to Ireland with his wife, Sandra, to re-trace the Cooney family's roots.