Richard Gee was well-qualified to take his place as a judge of the Family Court of Australia in 1980. It was a difficult time.
The man he was replacing, Justice David Opas, had been killed by person or persons unknown. Gee, a compassionate man with deep spiritual conviction, who had specialised in Family Law as a barrister, was the right man for the job.
"He was very hard-working but patient," said Justice Eric Baker, a former Family Court judge who has known Richard Gee for decades. "He was not given to big-noting himself. His life was his job, his family and his church."
But if Richard Gee wanted to live a quiet life, it was literally blown to bits in the early hours of March 6, 1984, when a bomb demolished the front of his home in Belrose, on Sydney's northern beaches.
Gee was asleep in the front bedroom and the bomb sent a beam smashing onto his bed, just missing him. Had his wife, Helen – then ill in hospital – been beside him, she would have been killed. Gee's two children, Stephen, then 15, and Allison, 12, also asleep in the house, were uninjured but Gee suffered gashes to his face and his left arm and serious injuries to both legs.
The bomb, exploding at 1.45am, damaged seven other houses in the street and injured an 11-year-old girl. Gee was taken to the Royal North Shore Hospital for surgery to remove shrapnel from both legs. But the house, in Neridah Avenue, Belrose, was rebuilt, and six months later Gee returned to work "as if nothing had happened", according to Justice Baker. The family moved back into the rebuilt house.
Richard Walter Gee was born on October 19, 1933. He went to Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) and then to Sydney University where he took degrees in Arts and Law. In 1958, he took up a position as an associate of Justice James Hardie in the NSW Supreme Court and the following year was admitted to the NSW Bar.
The same year he became a lay reader in the Anglican Church. He gained theological qualification at Moore College and in 1960 became a member of the Sydney Anglican Synod. He established a substantial general practice in law. In 1967, the year he married Helen, he became a member of the South American Missionary Society.
Gee became prominent in both his ecclesiastical and professional pursuits. In 1973, he became a member of the Standing Committee of the Sydney Anglican Diocese and in 1979 was appointed to a Specialist Advisory Committee on the Family Law Act. He was also appointed to the Family Law Sub-Committee of the NSW Bar Council and became a special consultant to the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act. Appointed to the bench in 1980, Gee was noted for his caring attitude but was very strait-laced. According to Justice Baker, he did not care for "blue" jokes".
The bombing in 1984 was "a horrendous experience", Justice Baker said. "But Helen was the prop of the family and she got them through that. In those days there was very little counselling. I don't think Dick had much. But he was determined to continue as a judge." Justice Baker, who was head judge at the Family Court in Parramatta, said: "Dick was a middle-of-the road judge. He did not get many appeals. I worked out a system where everyone [the judges under him] did their own thing in their own way. But I never had any trouble with Dick."
Richard Gee had a passion for cricket. He was a member of the Sydney Cricket Ground, attended regularly with his wife. "He knew test figures for all the Australian players and many of the English as well," Justice Baker said. Gee retired from the bench in 1999. The following year, he became member of the council of Anglicare and in 2002 an executive member of the NSW Council of Churches.
He lived quietly in retirement, regularly attending his local Anglican church, St Stephens, Belrose. His son Stephen embarked on a career as a diplomat with the Commonwealth Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and his daughter Allison became a midwife. His wife predeceased him three years ago
In recent years, Richard Gee was showing signs of dementia. On January 2 this year, Allison found her father dead in his backyard swimming pool. Because nobody witnessed the incident, the death was subject of a police inquiry and an autopsy was ordered. It is now understood there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.
Among the tributes paid to him in the days after his death was announced was one from Fiona McLeod, president of the Law Council of Australia, who said: "His courage in continuing to serve on the Court following the bombing of his family home was a testament to his determination and commitment to the legal system." Funeral arrangements are yet to be announced.