As a small boy, Bill Laxon loved to go on board the coastal steamer where his grandfather worked as an engineer.
It was the beginning of a lifetime love of ships and a part-time writing career acknowledged as one of the finest contributions by any New Zealander to both national and international maritime history.
The 68-year-old lawyer, who died at his Whangateau home north of Auckland on Friday October 15 , after a long battle with cancer, was also closely involved with several prominent projects in Auckland.
These included the redevelopment of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, the creation of the National Maritime Museum on the waterfront, and a series of plaques around the Viaduct Basin describing the history of Waitemata Harbour.
Laxon was born in Auckland and educated at Auckland Grammar School, where he was dux in 1953, and at Auckland University. He became a partner in the law firm Towle and Cooper in 1963 and retired from its successor, Brookfields, as a partner in 1997 and as a consultant in 2003. Throughout his legal career he won respect from colleagues as both the archetypal family solicitor and expert corporate adviser.
Laxon started writing shipping articles at the age of 17 and contributed regularly to New Zealand Marine News and similar publications for the next 50 years.
After publishing his first books in the 1960s, he worked with the late Fred Perry on an extensive history of the British India Steam Navigation Company and led a team of authors to produce the definitive history of the New Zealand Shipping Company. His most personal work was a portrait of Arthur Henry Davey, the legendary master of the luxury passenger liner Awatea which held the trans-tasman speed record in the late 1930s.
Fellow historian Ian Farquhar described Davey of the Awatea as “a fine study of a shipmaster of last century as well as being an insight into the golden days of sea travel”.
Laxon was a founder member of the Auckland Maritime Society, honorary vice-president of the NZ Ship and Marine Society for 46 years and a member of the World Ship Society, which published four of his books, for more than 50 years. For many years he worked to promote the creation of the National Maritime Museum which opened in 1993. He was a founding trustee of the museum and later deputy chairman. He also served as chairman of Presbyterian Support (Northern), the social services arm of the Presbyterian church, for which he was awarded an MBE in 1988.
He is survived by his wife, Lorna, sons Andrew and Iain, daughter Alison and three grandchildren.
-Staff reporter, NZ Herald 23 October 2004
Bill Laxon was heavily involved in local government legal matters throughout his career, serving many local councils. Hon Richard Worth MP paid tribute to Bill Laxon during a debate on the Auckland War Memorial Museum Bill in 2003.