The lightness of being

02 Jun 2023

Nick Gresson’s (6161) love of his father runs deep.

The indelible print his father left prompted Nick to trace five generations of one of New Zealand’s best known legal families.

Although not a lawyer, the multi-talented Nick describes himself as a ‘worker for law’, justice and mental health, as well as an author, poet and photographer. He received a QSM in 1999 for public services.

Nick’s recently-released book, Every Sign of Life: On Family Ground, is the saga of his wider family, and most particularly, his beloved father.

Justice Terence Arbuthnot Gresson was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1956 aged 42 years and died by suicide at 53.

“I wanted to honour the life of my father and to demystify events around his death. I wanted to observe the family through writing an account of it with honesty to the forefront.

I also love the characters I grew up with and I wanted to bring them to life. My grandfather, grandmother and my great grandmothers, for example, were unforgettable,” says Nick.

“Why was my father such an inspiration? Because his kindness to me and to the world was something to behold. Everybody around his court and his court trials spoke so highly of him, and he was just the same at home to me. He always backed my sensitivities.

“His lightness of being, his contagious humour, his understanding of humanity ran very deep.”

Nick cherishes a comment from Chief Justice Sir Richard Wild who said Nick’s father “had a poise, a courtesy, an air of distinction, a gracefulness of his own”, and had “a superb gift of insight and perception into the strengths and frailties of human nature”.

A labour of love, the book took at least 20 years to research and write.

“I was always wanting to know more of the historical contexts and corners. It takes a long time when researching historical events. Some unexpected avenues open up, through other people’s anecdotes and stories,” Nick says.

One of the best personal aspects of writing, was that it proved to Nick that he could stick at it.

“I wanted to tell it all as it was, in its authentic context, minus moral overtones. It would be uncluttered writing and I lived up to that. I’m not the ring-master in the book. I just wanted to tell the stories through my observations of life and those characters I met along the way.”

Nick had two children – Justine and Emerson with his first wife. The book includes a heart rending chapter on the death of eight-year-old Emerson in 1982, who suffered from severe epilepsy.

Every Sign of Life: On Family Ground was launched at Scorpio Books in Christchurch earlier this year and was named as a finalist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in general non-fiction category.

Nick paid special tribute to his wife, Elizabeth Mary Gresson, for her dedicated and painstaking research.

“Seeing this weighty tome for the first time when the first copy from the publisher reached me was a thrill I had not experienced since the joy of the arrival of my daughter, Justine, in 1971.”