A life investigating deaths

HONOURED: Former Richard McElrea was recognised for his work as a coroner and the work he did to preserve the original explorer bases in the Ross Dependency region in the New Year Honours List.

Twenty-one years of investigating deaths has led to retired coroner Richard McElrea being recognised on the New Year Honours List.

Mr McElrea, 72, of Fendalton, who was instrumental in establishing the Coroners’ Council in 1998, was awarded the Companion of the Queen’s Service Order.

He said it was a privilege to work as a coroner, and he was lucky enough to have worked in both the old and the new coroner system which was established in 2007.

Born in Dunedin, Mr McElrea attended Otago Boys’ High School before going on to gain a Bachelor of Arts at Otago University and a law degree at Canterbury University.

He became a partner at law firm Duncan Cotterill in 1970 before being appointed a coroner for the Canterbury region in 1994.

“It wasn’t something I always thought I would go into but it is just an opportunity that arose and I have had the privilege of having two careers in the law,” he said.

In 1998, Mr McElrea helped found and chaired the Coroners’ Council which, he said, was an important part of the coroner support system.

“We started having meetings . . . we worked together to try and bring about change which would mean more resources for corners and that all occurred,” he said.

After the establishment, the council began liaising with the Ministry of Justice and other coroners from overseas, setting up a best practice.

As well as his services as a coroner, Mr McElrea was recognised for his former role as chair of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, which is responsible for the care of the original explorer bases in the Ross Dependency region of the Antarctica.

Before he became a lawyer, he worked as a New Zealand Antarctic volunteer in the
1970s.

He continued his interest by interviewing survivors from Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctica expedition of 1914-1917 and co-authored a book Polar Castaways.

In the mid-1980s as president of the New Zealand Antarctic Society, he became involved in the formation of the Antarctic Heritage Trust which ensures expedition bases and thousands of artefacts are preserved.

“It is as if I have been there yesterday, such are the sharpness of the images one experiences down there,” he said.

He was one of four residents from the western area of the city to be honoured on the list.

Ms Catherine Samantha Russell, of Riccarton, was recognised for services to health and governance, John Harrington of Burnside, was recognised for services to youth and Emeritus Professor John Frederick Burrows, of Fendalton, for services to the State.

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