The Hon. William Kaye AO QC - obituary

The Hon. William Kaye AO QC
Lawyer, judge and advocate for tolerance

(Obituary written by Bill’s daughter, Dina, with the help of her brothers.)

William (Bill) Kaye died on 12 May 2012, aged 93 years, after a life of service to the legal system, the Jewish community and to our country.

Born in Melbourne and the youngest child of Chana Reizel and Shlomo-Zalman Komesaroff, who arrived in Australia from Berdyansk in the Ukraine in 1913, Bill was always conscious of his family’s origins and his parents’ early struggle in Australia. He was a proud Australian, with a deep appreciation of our tolerant, democratic society.

Bill was educated at Kew Primary School, Scotch College, and Melbourne University. In 1941, he interrupted his studies to enlist in the Royal Australian Navy. He was assigned to the sloop HMAS Warrego, which was engaged in mine sweeping and escorting convoys around New Guinea and along the east coast of Australia. Later he joined the corvette HMAS Cowra, serving as an anti-submarine officer in the same areas.

Bill married Henrietta Ellinson while on leave in May 1943. He died just one week before their 69th wedding anniversary. Their marriage was marked by an abiding devotion to each other and to their family.

Somehow, Bill managed to complete his law studies on board ship and sat the final law exams just before his demobilisation in early 1946. After completing articles, he was admitted to practice as a barrister later that year. Thus began a career in the law of almost 45 years. As a barrister, he specialised in personal injury cases and in criminal and commercial law. In 1962, he was appointed Queen’s Counsel and led a number of significant cases, including the inquiry into allegations of police corruption and the 1971 royal commission into the West Gate Bridge disaster.

He served his profession as chairman of the Victorian Bar Council’s Ethics Committee and subsequently as vice chairman and chairman of the Council. He was also president of the Australian Bar Association, an executive member of the Law Council of Australia, a member of the founding committee of the Faculty of Law at Monash University, and a member of its Faculty Board. In addition, he chaired the Proctorial Board of La Trobe University for 2 years.

In 1972, Bill was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, becoming the 51st Supreme Court Judge in Victoria and the first Jewish judge appointed to that Court in its then 121 year history. Throughout his term of office, Bill was deeply committed to upholding the role of the Supreme Court in our system of justice.

Bill was proud of his Jewish faith and its history and tradition. He was a deeply humane man who practised his values in everyday life. He chaired Temple Beth Israel’s Fund for the Future, and was a long standing member of the Victorian Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women. He was a member of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, and founder and first president of the Victorian Branch of that association.

Shortly after their arrival in Australia, his parents joined the Zionist movement, and Bill grew up with an ethic of concern for the welfare of the Jewish people. As a 19 year-old, with his friend Ron Taft, he visited Rabbi Sanger (who had just arrived in Melbourne from Berlin) to talk about the situation in Nazi Germany. Bill gave his full support to the State of Israel as it rose from the ashes of the Holocaust, and always admired Israel, its democratic system and its respect for the individual. Together with Henrietta, he made many trips to Israel and formed close friendships there, including with members of Israel’s Supreme Court.

In 1990, Bill’s contributions to the law, the community and the country were recognised with the award of an Order of Australia. After 19 years distinguished service as a judge, he retired from the Supreme Court in 1991.

In retirement, he was soon working for the broader community, serving on the RSPCA advisory board for 8 years. The main focus of his work, however, was in interfaith relations. He was the founding chairman of the Australian Council of Christians and Jews, and chaired the Victorian Council of Christians and Jews from 1991 to 1999. During this time, the Victorian Council published two important works addressing anti-Jewish texts in Christian scripture. He was greatly assisted on the Council by members of the Sisters of Sion with whom he formed lasting friendships. In 1996, he was presented with Philia award by the Australian branch of the World Conference on Religion and Peace.

Bill remained active until the last two years of his life, when he endured declining health with grace, courage and good humour. He is survived by his wife, daughter, three sons, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. He was and will remain a blessing in their lives.