One of Whanganui's most prominent businessmen and lawyers has died at the age of 93.

Gordon Swan was born and bred in Whanganui and attended St John's Hill School, Whanganui Intermediate and Whanganui Collegiate before enrolling at Victoria University in Wellington to study law part-time.

As the only son of Sidney and Norah, Swan carried on a strong legacy of law and community service. His maternal grandfather George Gordon was one of the founding partners in the Whanganui legal firm, Treadwell Gordon.

His great uncle, Sir Kenneth Swan was knighted in England for his services to patent law and his paternal grandfather, George Swan served as mayor of Napier for five terms before relocating to Whanganui.


While studying in Wellington, Swan worked in the Wellington law firm of Treadwell's and in 1951 he returned to join his grandfather at Treadwell Gordon where he became a partner shortly after.

In 1954, Swan married Kathryn Hatrick and the couple had three daughters, Rosemary, Jeannie and Philippa.

"His commitment to the practice of law, skills as a lawyer and businessman, and leadership contributed in no small part to Treadwell Gordon becoming one of the most successful and long-established provincial practices in New Zealand, a fact he was enormously proud of," Jeannie said.

She said as a lawyer he cared for and took a genuine interest in his clients and their families, frequently acting for generations of the same family.

He was appointed Whanganui's City Solicitor in 1974 until 1987 and was also president of the Whanganui District Law Society.

Through his legal career that spanned for 62 years, he gave voluntary legal advice and assistance to many organisations.

These included being an honorary solicitor to Christ Church, the Margaret Watt Orphanage, the Society for Intellectually Handicapped Children, Hikurangi Resthome and for 30 years at the Stewart Plunket Karitane Hospital.

The firm Treadwell Gordon recently celebrated 150 years. Photo / Bevan Conley
The firm Treadwell Gordon recently celebrated 150 years. Photo / Bevan Conley

Richard Austin, partner of Treadwell and Gordon, said even with Swan's many civic and commercial contributions he was a relatively private person whose greatest joy was his family.


"He was humble, but yet compellingly authoritative. His professional and commercial successes may have been legend, but he would be the last to speak of them.

"He is remembered as an intelligent, kind and generous man who many looked to not only for legal assistance but for pragmatic advice, guidance and friendship."

Swan was also a trustee of the WM Duncan Trust and the SM Davis Trust which made numerous donations to Whanganui including for the building of the Davis Library, the Springvale Sports Stadium and the Castlecliff Pavilion.

More recently, the two trusts distributed their full remaining capital to the Sarjeant Art Gallery project, which became a significant part of the project rebuild.

He also supported the Whanganui City Brass Band, now known as Whanganui City Brass.

Swan was also involved with housing and land development that saw him building units in central Whanganui city and developing subdivisions including Tasman Views, Rotokawau, Virginia Heights and the Avenue Motor Inn.


Primary industries were a particular interest including pastoral farming, forestry and fishing.

"He built up an enviable practice in these areas which he retained well into his later years," Jeannie said.

This interest led him to buy 20 hectares at Westmere where he and Kathryn lived for most of their married life. He added to the land and also acquired blocks at Fordell and Putiki.

In 1965, Swan and Pam Williams investigated a call from council that looked into the viability of a local fishing industry.

"Their foresight, determination and business acumen saw the development of a successful fishing industry in Whanganui, initially focused on inshore fisheries and fish processing and later, after negotiating a successful joint venture with South Korean interests, Wanganui Seafoods became an important industry and significant employer in Whanganui," Jeannie said.

Williams said they were involved together in the fishing company as well as Air Whanganui and other industries.


"He was a wonderful person and he did such a lot for Whanganui and a lot of people. With the various business partnerships, he was always wonderful to have around and very much active.

"I'm going to miss him terribly and he certainly had a wonderful life, it's a terrible loss to lose him," Williams said.

Swan was also on several boards and involved in diverse industries including textiles, aviation, tourism, agricultural machinery, forestry, pipfruit, kiwifruit, fishing, education, Wanganui Hospital Board, Wanganui Harbour Board and Wanganui Gas Board.

Gordon and his wife Kathryn were happily married for 60 years. Photo / Supplied
Gordon and his wife Kathryn were happily married for 60 years. Photo / Supplied

And although work was a big part of his life, Jeannie said her father is remembered fondly by his friends and colleagues for his sense of humour, his love for beer and a good prank.

He was also an avid sportsman playing golf well into his 80s at Belmont course or enjoying a game of snooker on a Friday evening, but Jeannie said cricket and rugby were his passions.

It would be very rare for him to miss a rugby game at Spriggens Park or Cooks Gardens, she said.


In May 2014, Swan and his wife celebrated 60 years of marriage but Kathryn died a few months later.

Jeannie said her mother was an integral part of her father's success and happy life.

Alongside his three daughters, he is survived by seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Swan passed away peacefully on April 3, at Jane Winstone Retirement Village.

The family have confirmed a memorial service will be held at a later date.