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Simpson, Edward Philip (1924–2008)

by Chris Ashton

In early 1945, 3000 metres above the RAAF base at Mildura and with his instructor in the front cockpit, pilot officer Philip Simpson was flying a Wirraway trainer, acting as a target under mock attack by Kittyhawk trainees, when the two planes collided. The Wirraway spiralled earthwards; the port wing fell off. Simpson and his instructor baled out, as did the Kittyhawk pilot.

To commemorate his jump, the company supplying parachutes to the RAAF presented Simpson with a tiny lapel badge, a ruby-eyed, gold-embossed replica of a silkworm.

Edward Philip Telford Simpson, wartime pilot, solicitor and Southern Highlands cattle-breeder, who has died at 83, was the last of three generations of Simpsons to lead one of Australia's oldest law firms. What began in 1827, when Frederick Unwin was registered as a practising solicitor, is now the Minter Ellison Group, with offices in Australia, Beijing and London.

The Simpsons worked with the law firm over a period of 110 years, beginning when Philip's grandfather, Edward Percy Simpson joined in 1881.

Philip Simpson was born to Telford and Ursula (nee Caterall) Simpson. With his brother, Jock, his childhood was happy and secure. After schooling at Cranbrook, Tudor House and The Kings School, he enlisted in the RAAF. Commissioned the day before his 19th birthday, he joined the New Guinea campaign with 4 Squadron, flying on tactical reconnaissance sorties over New Britain's Gazelle Peninsula, which remained in enemy hands until the war's end, first from Cape Gloucester and later from Nadzab in the Markham Valley.

Following his demobilisation shortly before his 21st birthday, he enrolled in the Sydney University Law School.

He joined the family firm to read articles and, following graduation in 1950, was appointed a full partner. It was then common practice for law firms to appoint novice lawyers as full partners if they were related to senior partners.

In what is now Minter Ellison's Sydney office, Philip Simpson is recalled by his former colleagues as a catalyst for change. Despite his attachment to family, he lobbied for the recruitment and promotion of new blood based on merit rather than the old-boy network. In 1987, with negotiations in progress to merge with the Melbourne firm, Ellison, Hewison & Whitehead, Minter Simpson partners were divided over an appropriate name for the new firm. Some wanted the Simpson name retained. Two of Philip's children held law degrees but neither wanted to practise law. As managing partner, he resolved that his patronym be excluded from the new firm's name.

Bluff and amiable, a no-nonsense lawyer impatient with legal niceties, Simpson more than once had to be restrained from seeking informal advice on points of law from former Minter Simpson solicitors since elevated to the bench or to senior legal posts with the NSW Public Service.

Though sceptical of the value of part-time company directors, he was on the board of the insurance company Legal & General for 15 years and 20 years on the board of a company he had incorporated, Pearls Pty Ltd, conceived in New York to farm oysters and cultivate pearls at remote Kuri Bay, north-east of Broome.

In the mid-1950s at one of Sydney's premier annual charity functions, the Black and White Ball, Philip met Caroline, daughter of Betty and Warwick Fairfax, then chairman of the Sydney newspaper group, John Fairfax & Sons. Philip and Caroline married in 1959.

Their marriage of 44 years was marked by a fine balance of interests shared — family, friends, overseas travel — and complementary. Caroline committed herself to promoting the colonial heritage of Sydney and of Australia as a whole, and to a multitude of scholarly and artistic projects through institutions and individuals.

Philip was equally committed to his farm, Newbury, which adjoins Sutton Forest in the Southern Highlands. He freely acknowledged that, although the law provided him and his father with a livelihood, farming was their true calling.

Following his retirement from the law in 1991, the farm became the central focus of Simpson's energy and interest and, after Caroline's death in 2003, his solace. He resolved to develop it as showpiece of Southern Highlands beef production. Supported by his farm manager, he planted windbreaks of thousands of eucalyptus seedlings and acquired state-of-the-art machinery, including a mobile irrigation system. Today Newbury Farm runs 700 cows and calves.

Philip Simpson is survived by three daughters, Louise, Alice and Emily, his son, Edward, and six grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 April 2008, p 20

Citation details

Chris Ashton, 'Simpson, Edward Philip (1924–2008)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/simpson-edward-philip-13886/text24755, accessed 22 November 2017.

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