Expert Breakfast Report for 16 May 2018: Prof Mark Henaghan, Dean of Law Faculty

Prof. Henaghan lists his interests on the University web page as: “Family Law, Law Relating to Children (custody/access, child abuse, medico-legal issues) Human Genome Law, Relationship Property, The Judiciary and judge-made Law.” It was very clear from his talk that his interests range a great deal wider than those ‘official’ ones!

As usual, Members present each introduced themselves briefly - where they are from, and what they are studying. Prof Henaghan greeted each one with enthusiasm, and with an anecdote or quip about either - or both - of those topics.

He started life in Timaru and went to school there, mentioning playing rugby, working in the freezing works at Pareora, and coming down to Dunedin, where his parents had been born. As a very young person, this meant his visits here were not infrequently to attend family funerals, leaving him with the impression Dunedin was “a dark, cold place , where people die all the time”.

Although most of his friends from school went to Canterbury University, he was not enthusiastic about Christchurch, and he ended up coming to Otago University, taking one of the last places in Unicol, one of sevenrooms in the basement. He felt very fortunate, because his fellow students on that floor included two Samoans and two Fijians, and he became an honorary Pacific Islander, being introduced to kava, sang songs into the night and enjoyed himself immensely - including the smuggling of alcohol and women in for Unicol members through his basement window, till the Master had a lock put on it!

After describing the rather gradual and restrained wooing of the woman who became his wife, starting from her thought: “ He’s about the worst behaved person in the Hall, I’m having nothing to do with him!”, went through a long, slow introduction period to an $8 dinner with wine ($8 was quite lot in those days, especially if you were a student. - It left him with just 50 cents for the result of the year!), and on to studying at her place. So now he was studying every night, “God, it makes a difference! - It’s pretty obvious, if you put the put the work in, you get the results.” “She’s had to put up with me for 47 years, and I haven’t changed that much - she still hopes I’ll become the person she hoped I would be, but women are eternally optimistic that they can change the way men behave.”

In the last year of the law degree students were required to undertake 'professional practice'. This can now be undertaken on-line, but in those days it meant attending lectures on practical aspects of law, one at 8 am and another at 5 pm, so he decided to continue the BA in Politics and History he had begun earlier. At the end of that year, he was admitted to the bar, and in the following year finished the BA.

As he was doing Finals, his 51 year old father died suddenly of a heart attack in the middle of a fun-run in Timaru. As the eldest son, he took over funeral arrangements, which included the traditional Irish wake that lasted two days. (An Irish Wake is a sort of celebration of the life of the deceased, when friends and relatives bring out stories of the life of the departed aided by a reasonable, sometimes perhaps a little excessive, intake of alcohol). When everyone had gone, Mark made his way back to Dunedin to finish off his exams.

Unusual Heroes

People sometimes ask him “Who are the great heroes in your life?” and he has two. One is Dorothy McKay, an ordinary housewife - though also a great cook who once cooked for the Governor-General. With the family returning to their University tasks, she was very worried about Mrs. Henaghan. “She just said to her husband, ‘Sorry, Cyril, I’m going to live with Mary for the next couple of months, because she needs company.” And so she did, going home every day to cook for her husband. “Such a kind person . . . I’ve always thought Dorothy was one of the greatest people of all time. Didn’t even hesitate . . . She lived into her nineties, and would always be there to help people. . . These are the people who should get knighthoods, really.”

His other great hero was Ngaire Trevathon. She was the cleaning lady who looked after him in his first year at Unicol, really taking an interest in him. Not only that, she looked after him for some time afterwards. She became the ‘tea lady’ in the Law Faculty. Despite losing both her daughter and her husband, she was always cheerful, always helpful. “She was involved in about 10 volunteer groups, she do anything to help, baby-sitting for people, no matter what was needed she would be there to give it to people.”

Prof. Henaghan went through how he became a Teaching Fellow, then an Assistant Lecturer, recalling how excited he had been giving his first lecture, going so fast through the material that he finished the content he had with 20 minutes to spare, telling one of his favourite jokes (the wide-mouthed frog), extending it over 15 minutes!

He spoke on a number of significant matters for which there is no space to give detail - on how much luck plays a part in one’s career, the input that a questioning student can have on established opinion, how vulnerable a client or patient is likely to be under because of what is happening in their lives, and the importance of the professional keeping that in mind.

MAOA gene expression and violent behaviour

In answer to a question from a Member, Mark talked about his part in the developing policy on the legal implications of the Human Genome Project. in particular, he mentioned the monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA gene) that is linked to violent criminal behaviour when also associated with abuse and neglect of the child carrying a particular variant of the gene which causes low expression of the gene. People who carry the gene but have a normal childhood do not show the violent behaviour.

(PS If you are curious about the widemouthed frog joke, there are versions of it on the web. Some think it is very funny, others not so convinced!)

Posted: Tuesday May 22, 2018