Gavin David O’Sullivan, barrister-at-law, sometime poet and our wonderful friend, died on 8 March 2007. His funeral service was held on 14th March, his 46th birthday. The symmetry would have appealed to him.
Gavin was the eldest son of Jan and David O’Sullivan and brother to five siblings. The focus of Gavin’s life was his family. Gavin married Tracey-Ann Pascoe on 25 May 1990. Some insight into our friend might be gathered from the circumstances of their engagement – Gavin presenting himself in a full suit of armour to the somewhat bemused Tracey-Ann, she at first not being quite sure who was behind the mask! Gavin loved Tracey-Ann and Tracey-Ann loved Gavin. Their relationship was a true partnership - one that found expression in their five children and their many friends and interests.
Tracey-Ann and their children, Patrick, Bridget, Clara, Seamus and Charlotte, were his world. And there can be no doubt that at every fork in the road that we all must tread through life every choice and decision he made was made with the aim of ensuring that his home was the best, most loving, most enjoyable place for the five children. He was the proudest of fathers. Next to him on his desk, with him through that last year of his life, was the happiest photograph any of us are ever likely to see, of the five children romping in the snow.
Gavin was educated at St. Joseph’s, Bardon, to grade 4, and then at Marist College, Rosalie for the remainder of his primary and secondary education. He was very proud of his alma mater. He had the advantage over many of us in that he was gifted both academically and athletically such that he excelled in any sport involving a moving ball. Following in his father’s footsteps tennis became his main pursuit but he represented his school in a numerous fields.
After completing his secondary schooling Gavin studied Arts and Law at the University of Queensland and graduated with honours in both. His Arts major was in psychology. His studies in this field made him a formidable strategist later on when he came to the Bar.
During his university days, Gavin continued to play tennis competitively and added squash to his resumé. His friends from his uni days say that “a social game” was not in Gavin’s dictionary. Even when he was supposed to be “just having a hit” – Gavin could not quite bury the competitive streak, running his opponents ragged around the court. Over the past few years, Gavin and the equally formidable Tracey-Ann joined forces in the aptly named netball team “In Loco Parentis” - and were a force to be reckoned with.
Gavin’s career in the law started with his articles at Henderson Lahey (now Clayton Utz). Following his admission as a solicitor in 1986, Gavin moved to Roberts Barrett, with his great friend David (“Robbo”) Roberts, and remained there for nearly 5 years through its merger with Hopgood & Ganim. At Gavin’s retirement dinner Robbo told the tale of the day he was trying to sell his practice. The intending purchaser after going through the firm with a very astute eye announced that the only thing of value that he had found was Gavin. Robbo could not bring himself to say that Gavin was shortly to be off to the Bar!
Gavin was called to the Bar in 1990. He took chambers on the 19th level of MLC before moving to 16th level in 1991. He remained on that floor for the rest of his career. His practice commenced, like most, in the Magistrates’ Court, but his ability as an advocate and the soundness of his advice, soon saw him appearing regularly in the superior courts and ultimately, in 2005, in the High Court. Gavin was at home in property and commercial matters, dabbled in personal injury claims, enjoyed the Australian Government Solicitor’s briefs in the administrative law field, and in his one excursion into defamation law enjoyed success before a jury, putting a new twist on “truth and public benefit” along the way. He was briefed by both large and small firms, and to all he offered the same acuity of mind and diligence of preparation. It did not matter whether it was a “freebie” for one of brother-in-law Fr Dick Pascoe’s lost sheep, or preparation for the High Court, each case, each client, got Gavin’s full effort, received carefully considered and researched advice, and forceful representation.
Gavin revelled in the law. He loved its intricacies and subtleties and was never happier than when exploring the dimly lit caverns of precedent, or teasing from a contract a little more than the drafter might have realised. Whilst he had a genuine respect for the law and enjoyed very much the practice of it, he also had a strong sense of social justice. He was often called upon by his brother-in-law, Fr. Richard Pascoe, to help the lost sheep and the hard done by. Gavin rejected the cynical view that the practice of the law and the doing of justice were two different things.
In his usual understated style, after he realised that he would not be returning to practice, Gavin held a “retirement party” in mid-February 2007. It was a marvellous night. Friends and family gathered in one of Gavin’s favourite local restaurants. Stories were told, laughter was plentiful and only a few tears were shed. It was a true celebration of a life lived without regrets and right to the hilt. At the dinner numerous solicitors who had briefed Gavin over the years or who had been part of his University coterie were present. Their stories of Gavin’s victories, and some losses, entertained the assembled party, but all spoke of his diligence and professionalism, his capacity for legal research, his humanity, and his learning. The accuracy of their comments was borne out when Gavin appeared for the last time in the wig and gown, before the Court of Appeal, a week before his death.
Gavin and his family were presented that with a bound volume of cases in which he had appeared – some of the more important ones and some which had given him the greatest satisfaction (and, occasionally, the greatest amusement). They covered a wide spectrum of the law, from property and equity to defamation to administrative law.
The president of the Bar Association of Queensland, Martin Daubney SC, wrote a letter to Gavin which was read by McMeekin SC at the retirement dinner. Observing the paradox facing every barrister between competition and collegiality, Daubney SC said:
“It is no understatement, Gavin, to say that your practice demonstrably achieved harmonization within the paradox. You have been the fairest and most determined of competitors. You have observed your duties to your clients without flinching and without favour. And you have done this while observing every aspect of your duties to the Court and commanding the highest respect of your peers.”
It may not be known to the wider Bar that Gavin had a somewhat quirky sense of humour that found expression as the “poet laureate” of 16th Level Chambers. On significant and not so significant occasions – a birthday, a Christmas party, a newborn, or a retirement, perhaps – he would produce a verse evidencing a perception of his Chamber colleagues, with all their strengths and weaknesses. In these pithy verses the wit and wisdom of Gavin O’Sullivan was shared to the amusement, embarrassment, and entertainment of us all. A sample may give insight. The subject shall remain an unnamed colleague:
“A great knowledge of the law
he could rightly boast
as he spent longer studying
its subjects than most
If a brief for advice
To him has been forwarded
Your patience in waiting for same
Will be rewarded ”
Some of these poems were included in the bound volume, a duplicate of which will be held in chambers.
Gavin was a member of the 16th Level Chambers for some 14 years and in that time a well-worn path to his door developed as those more junior (or senior for that matter) sought him out for advice and assistance. He always made time to hear his colleague’s dilemmas and his insights nearly always struck to the heart of the issue. His advice was always valued and valuable and never given in a manner that made one feel the lesser for having asked the question.
Gavin David O’Sullivan was a son, husband, father, lawyer and friend whose premature death was mourned by such a number that the Church could not contain them – a fitting tribute. A few weeks prior to his death fellow barristers arranged a Mass in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in prayerful support of Gavin and his family. That so many barristers attended that Mass after work on a Thursday evening was very greatly appreciated by him and an indication of the esteem in which his fellow barristers held him.
In reflecting on Gavin’s life the following comes to mind as a fitting summation of his approach to living the Beatitudes, the Gospel reading he chose for his funeral service:-
“I expect to pass through this world but once
Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, or
Any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature,
Let me do it now;
Let me not defer or neglect it,
For I shall not pass this way again” (Stephen Grellet)
He will be greatly missed.
Michael JW Byrne
On behalf of Gavin’s Chambers colleagues:
Duncan McMeekin SC, Andrew Preston, John Miles, Cate Heyworth-Smith,
and his other associates on the 16th Level:
Ross Stenson, Neil Thompson, Llewelyn Stephens, Ben Whitten, Aaron Simpson, Melanie Hindman, Susan Anderson, Ben Wessling-Smith, Wally Noble, Michael Woodford, Michael Alexander, and Kate Greenwood.
A Thank You ...
I am the wife of a barrister in Brisbane. When my husband told me about Gavin O’Sullivan I was very saddened. He had known Gavin as he had been in Chambers with him in the past and he told me that Gavin had a large family. We have two children of our own under the age of two and we both felt for the family and wanted to help. I am a stay at home mother, so I decided to put together a gift package for the family that could be used in the future to help out with expenses and to also help Tracey-Ann and the children during such a sad time. I contacted various businesses to ask them for a donation of goods or services for the family. The following companies were very kind and generous in offering goods and services for the family:
- Village Hairdressers, Toowong
- Mumma Bubba Beauty Spa, Windsor
- Dream World, Gold Coast
- Movie World, Gold Coast
- Paradise Resort, Gold Coast.
I wish to publically thank each of the above companies for their generous support of the O'Sullivan family and ask that you, in turn,
support them in the future.