OBITUARY: The legacy of Susan Wakefield – and her husband Jim who died in 2020 – is most evident in Christchurch in the award winning Ravenscar Housedesigned by Patterson Associates to showcase the Wakefields’ extensive collection of art, antiques and furnishings.
But her story includes a long and successful career in accountancy and tax expertise.
As a partner, businesswoman, board member and chair of the Commerce Commission, she exemplified the capabilities of women in what had long been a traditionally male profession. In her personal life, she enjoyed cooking, art, travel, horse racing (she and Jim had several winners), and books, especially J. R. R. Tolkien.
Susan Wakefield was a war baby. Born in England on November 25, 1942, the eldest child of Walter and Edna Turtle, she spent her early childhood with her mother and maternal grandparents in Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom.
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After the war, her parents decided to emigrate to New Zealand, and Wakefield arrived in New Zealand in April 1948.
The young family moved to Te Puke, where their father, newly qualified as a teacher, got a job at the local high school.
Academically, Wakefield shone. The eldest of three girls and with no brothers, she was never held back by the limited expectations of gender.
She was 15 when her parents accepted a teaching job in Christchurch, and the family moved again.
Christchurch was difficult. She was an outsider at the newly established Cashmere High School; her success in math and science in a mostly all-boys class did little to improve her popularity.
But she developed an abiding appreciation for the South Island landscape and excelled in the classroom.
early 1959, The press stated “Susan has surpassed the Dominion” in the National School Certificate results.
At the University of Canterbury she studied French, English, Russian and philosophy. She received her BA and married her Russian teacher, Alex Lojkine, on January 16, 1965.
According to the university’s rules, married couples were not allowed to work in the same department, so she started studying accounting.
In 1971, she was hired as an office junior at Gilfillan, Gentles, Pickles & Perkins (now KPMG).
By the time Wakefield became a partner in 1979, few women were employed in the higher ranks of the profession. Despite her obvious ability, some clients were reluctant to work with a woman. But she persevered and developed a reputation as a candid, some have said “formidable”, tax expert.
She served on several government academic and fiscal committees, including the three-member ministerial inquiry into electricity industry regulation that led to the Electricity Industry Act 2010.
To counter the gender-driven isolation of a woman in a traditionally male profession, she proposed a professional alliance with senior partner Jim Wakefield. The alliance blossomed and when they moved to Auckland in 1985 they bought a villa together in Remuera.
Six weeks after becoming a partner at Peat Marwick in Auckland, her colleague, Rob McLeod, announced he was leaving to start his own company.
Wakefield decided to join the departing team and co-founded the McLeod Lojkine Associates tax practice.
As McLeod recalled at a celebration of her life earlier this year, his colleague had an outstanding professional and commercial reputation recognized by clients, competitors, academics and politicians.
“The building blocks of that reputation were a very big brain, excellent artistic flair, incredible resilience and an amazing work ethic.”
That same year she also accepted a directorship at the Bank of New Zealand and on 21 February 1989, Wakefield was appointed deputy to the chairmanship of Frank Pearson.
She stepped down from that position later in the year when she was named chair of the Commerce Commission, created to monitor compliance with new antimonopoly rules. It was a demanding role, requiring a lot of travel and tenacity.
“And we had to fight,” she later said. “The commute to Wellington was an ordeal, but I loved the track and I think I did well. I dispelled inefficiencies, I resisted government pressure to move from merit-based appointment to favouritism.”
In 1989, the “immaculately knowledgeable” Susan Lojkine was one of 31 women profiled by North & South for their work to “shape our lives and the future of the country”.
In 1992, the same year she and Jim married, she was recognized by a Queen’s Service Order for Public Service. She later received the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal and an honorary doctorate in commerce from the University of Canterbury.
In 1994, with a view to retirement, the Wakefields bought a large estate at Scarborough in Christchurch.
Still in Auckland, they launched their first “grand design” – a Frank Lloyd inspired house designed by Warren & Mahoney. Susan Wakefield threw herself into the project, working with architects, designers and contractors to attend every step of the design.
Ravenscar House, named after a coastal village in North Yorkshire and later owned by the Ravenscar Trust, was a grand design clad in honey-coloured Hinuera limestone with an interior of Spanish sandstone and marble floors, oak details and jarrah and honeysuckle steps.
The magnitude 6.3 earthquake on February 22, 2011 caused significant damage to the house. Two major aftershocks in June did even more damage. Land inspections showed cracks along the edge of the cliff and cracked rocks under the house. A year later, Ravenscar House was one of 700 Port Hills properties to be red-designated and in 2016 the house was demolished.
Even before the earthquake, the Wakefields wanted to donate their home to the city and display their collection of more than 300 paintings, etchings and lithographs, as well as sculpture, art glass, early Greek and Roman artifacts, books and furniture.
Through the Ravenscar Trust, they had supported several charities including the Christchurch Art Gallery, Isaac Theater Royal, Southern Opera, SCAPE Public Art, Christchurch City Choir and Canterbury Charity Hospital.
In 2002, Wakefield became founder and chairman of the University of Canterbury Foundation, set up to raise money for education. She was also one of the driving forces behind the Local Heroes project, a series of 12 bronze busts of prominent Cantabrians by local sculptor Mark Whyte.
They now decided to use the proceeds from the rebuilding of their home on the hill to fund a new Ravenscar house in a more accessible location in the center of town as a gift to the Canterbury community.
Completed in April 2021, the new Ravenscar House Gallery and Homenominated for last year’s World Architecture Festival, is a sophisticated configuration of dramatic weight and ephemeral illusion, towering walls and soft courtyards.
During a special pre-opening tour of the building, Ravenscar Trust chairman Steve Wakefield fondly recalled Susan Wakefield pronouncing it “better than I ever expected”.
Wakefield is survived by daughters Mary and Frances, stepchildren Wendy, Steve, Sue and Pete, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.