Retiring Rotorua Coroner Wallace Bain has had a remarkable career where he has spoken for the dead to take care of the living. He reflects with journalist Kelly Makiha on nearly three decades carving a career that has seen him recognised as one of the most respected in his profession.
It must be an amazing feeling seeing people out and about - alive - and knowing it is possibly because of something you've done.
Coroner Wallace Bain won't admit that, but that's the impact he's had in his role which his colleagues say he's carried out with intelligence, respect and distinction.
The 70-year-old coroner as of yesterday has retired after 28 years in the profession, serving fulltime in Rotorua since 2007.
His work has been immense. He has not only brought about lifesaving changes to legislation but he has taken the extra step of going out into the community to help make a difference.
He has been at the centre of several legislative changes and carried out a number of high-profile inquests, including the child-abuse deaths of Nia Glassie and Moko Rangitoheriri.
There have been massive inroads made to not only public awareness but law changes as a result of Coroner Bain being on the "warpath". Among them were deaths involving infant co-sleeping, non-wearing of life jackets, hunting tragedies, forestry flaws, texting and driving, driver fatigue, dangerous one-lane bridges, poor aviation training procedures, online bullying and youth suicides.
Coroner Bain's life has been so full of academic and personal achievements, you could write a book - which is something he's also done, two books on trout fishing to be precise.
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His career has encompassed pharmacy and law culminating in a doctorate in Medico Pharmacy law.
Mad on rugby, he's 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.
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He's served a term as Waitomo mayor, has owned three pharmacies and had a foot in the corporate camp as chairman of directors of two pharmaceutical companies.
He was heavily involved in the coroner's reforms which introduced 16 full-time coroners nationwide. He took over the role in Rotorua at a time when there was a backlog of 380 cases as result of only part-time coroners working at the time.
While following in his pharmaceutical father's footsteps was his original career path, he always had a hankering for the law - possibly as a result of his mother being New Zealand's first female police detective.
He was working in his pharmacy in downtown Auckland during the second Arthur Allan Thomas murder trial, when he found himself sitting in the public gallery watching.
From then he knew he wanted a law degree. Three years later he graduated from Otago University with first-class honours.
While starting his career in Hamilton he moved to Te Kuiti in 1980, specialising in medical law and coronial services for Taupō and King Country before moving to Rotorua in 2007.
Coroner Bain told the Rotorua Daily Post he was happy to retire at 70, a requirement as coroners' warrants expired when they reached that age.
"I am the oldest serving coroner but I've been here since 1992 so I've had a good run of things. My health is still pretty good and I'll be around a while I think."
One of his greatest achievements was seeing the rates of youth suicides almost halve and a lot of that he put down to the road trips he undertook with comedian Mike King, called A Coroner and a King, visiting schools and hammering home the message about speaking out and getting help.
He said it saddened him to now see those numbers climbing again and he left his role unhappy about the state of youth suicides and child abuse.
He said the fact a child was killed in New Zealand every five weeks as a result of abuse was unacceptable.
"We are supposed to be the most beautiful country in the world with everything going for it but for youth suicide and child abuse."
But counter that with the massive reductions in SUDI (sudden unexplained death in infancy) cases and there was some light.
He said he was proud of headlines that read "Coroner on the warpath" when it came to co-sleeping recommendations and it made him proud there were now children alive thanks to his persistence.
After 28 years of dealing with death and grieving families, Coroner Bain admits it never got easier - if anything, he said, he became more emotional as the years went on.
The cases of Nia Glassie and Moko Rangitoheriri were naturally devastating but he said any death that was preventable cut to the core.
He vividly remembers the inquest of Whitney Roberts, a 23-year-old Rotorua woman killed by a repeat drink driver south of Rotorua in 2009.
As her mother, Sonia Wilson, read to the court that she had hoped to plan her hen's party and baby showers, instead of her funeral, Coroner Bain admitted he felt tears starting to flow.
"She was minding her own business and was killed by a driver so drunk ... As I heard her mother speak, it really affected me, even just reading it now gets to me. I had to duck down behind the bench and quietly get a paper towel to wipe my eyes."
He said he had to remember their motto - "We speak for the dead to take care of the living" - and any sadness had to be put to one side.
Seeing preventable deaths prevented was why he did it.
"It's the one enjoyable thing that we can make a difference and make recommendations."
Given the state of the country's current lockdown as a result of Covid-19, he said he endorsed the Government's actions.
"Here's hoping we stay not having any deaths in New Zealand but to do that we have to follow the guidelines rigorously."
As he wound up his career, there were many things he was grateful for, among them his mentor, Don Griffin, from pharmacy school, his wife, Juliet, and family and his hard-working staff in Rotorua.
He said he felt comfort knowing he had done the job he was sworn to do.
"After climbing the mountain, I can finally enjoy the view."
What they say about Coroner Wallace Bain
Coroner Wallace Bain was to get a final court sitting on Friday, March 20, to end his career where several people were to give thanks for his contribution.
It was cancelled because of coronavirus.
The Rotorua Daily Post instead asked some of those who were to speak at the ceremony to share their comments about Coroner Bain.
Rotorua District Court Judge Phillip Cooper said Coroner Bain carried out his role as a coroner with "great distinction".
"His intelligence and perception has enabled him to get to the heart of the many cases that have come before him, some of which have been very complex and demanding. His empathy for and ability to communicate sensitively with people who are grieving and in crisis has been a hallmark of his work."
Judge Cooper said Coroner Bain was held in great esteem by his judicial colleagues in the District Court at Rotorua.
Comedian Mike King was full of praise for Coroner Bain.
"Wally is one of the most genuine, caring and honest human beings I have ever met. His ability to empathise and connect with people of all cultures is second to none and he will be sorely missed when he hangs up his gavel. My life is better for having him in it."
Retired Christchurch-based coroner Richard McElrea said Coroner Bain made a "considerable contribution" to society as a long-serving coroner from the "old school".
"He is from an era of part-time coroners, often lawyers, who until 2007 provided 24/7 cover and served their local community. From his office in Te Kuiti he was coroner for the King Country and Taupō from 1992 with a strong local presence and involvement, a feature of his work as coroner to this day."
McElrea said Coroner Bain's legal and pharmaceutical background provided a unique dimension.
"He was a valued member of the Coroners Council for some 10 years until appointed a full-time coroner in 2007. He contributed significantly in submissions to the Law Commission and the Justice Select Committee in the lead-up to the new Coroners Act."
As full-time coroner for the last 13 years based in Rotorua, he has been prepared to tackle issues arising from categories of death, particularly in the forestry industry, where he would group like cases together.
"He added the weight of the coroner's office to the cause of suicide prevention and appeared with mental health advocate Michael King in presentations around the country. "
As one of the last of the coroners who has served under both regimes, his retirement was the end of an era, McElrea said.
"Coroner Bain's significant career is reflected in the Canadian coroners' motto
'To speak for the dead, to protect the living' and he fearlessly followed this creed.
University of Auckland Law Professor Mark Henaghan, who is the former Dean of Law at the University of Otago, said there was no better person than Coroner Bain to deal and work with families in tragic circumstances.
"He can communicate in a way that is sensitive and empathetic and not many people are able to do that with such great mana and sympathy."
He said Coroner Bain's reports had "massive impacts".
"And he doesn't just write reports, he gets out and about and does things to actively change people's lives and in that respect he has gone above and beyond his role. I am proud to know him. What a difference this man has made."
Coroner Wallace Bain facts
* Born 1950 and raised in Hamilton
* Married to Juliet with two children, Lyndon and Catherine
* Qualifications include 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
* Coroner for Taupō and King Country from 1992
* Regional coroner based in Rotorua from 2007
* Hamilton Boys' High School Hall of Fame 2014
* Rotorua Daily Post Person of the Year 2015