27 May 2020

In memoriam | Judith Scott

Mana and metal, and a great big smile

Just as we emerged from the Covid-19 lockdown, news of Judith Scott’s sudden passing on Friday 15 April shook the mediator community. Judith exuded passion and enthusiasm for mediation. Her passing was unexpected and leaves us all checking to make sure we are living our lives to the fullest, as surely as Judith did.

Judith had a long, varied and successful career in dispute resolution and mediation. She worked in the mid-1980s for the Hospital Boards’ Association as an industrial relations officer, a small team of two who guided the centralised collective bargaining for the trades and support staff, in those days, for all hospital boards. She moved from there to the Health Service Personnel Commission, her hands-on industrial experience and wide respect of health board managers and unions helping to set up the organisation which for a short time, was the central employment agency for the health service. She worked in a similar role for the State Service Commission before being appointed to the Employment Tribunal as a mediator and adjudicator in 1992. When the Tribunal was disestablished, Judith embraced mediation. She joined the Department of Labour in 1997 as a mediator. She became Chief Mediator in 2012 and continued in that role when the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment was formed, a position she loved because it gave her the opportunity to engage with mediators in their professional development, along with the ability to influence practice development.  In 2016 Judith made a remarkably easy transition into the private sector to set up her own business, Judith Scott and Associates. She conducted a wide range of investigations, including employee complaints, workplace reviews and union management relationship concerns. She was also engaged to work as a contracted mediator for MBIE, covering the wider Auckland area.  

It would be fair to say that Judith ‘warmed’ to the then LEADR, now Resolution Institute model. She came from a fairly traditional approach, perhaps from the years in industrial relations, but as she made mediation her life passion, she studied, observed, adapted and became a strong supporter of Resolution Institute and the facilitative model. She worked hard to help people resolve their problems. She enjoyed coaching the five-day course and did so for many years as well as contributing to mediation policy and submissions on proposed legislation.

It’ll be Judith’s wide smile and twinkly eyes that we’ll remember whenever we think of her. She had enormous energy and vitality and huge enthusiasm for mediation. She also had a real ability to transfer knowledge and skills and was always willing to share her skills and experience.  She’d fly in from Italy and turn up the next day, not having done a jot of preparation and deliver a brilliant facilitation with aplomb. She had style. She was brave, staunch, had a huge network of friends and colleagues – and a razor sharp mind. Occasionally there’d be a slip of intolerance as she strove for the best. And then she’d smile, and her warmth, collegiality and professionalism would shine through. ‘Mana and metal’ says Anna Quinn of Judith.

Janet Scott (no relation but the first woman to be appointed to the Tribunal) recalls the years that she, Judith and Colleen Hicks were known as ‘the coven’ on the Employment Tribunal bench. Judith had a talent of mixing her business and professional associates into her personal world: she was a consummate entertainer and magnificent host, the benefit of which so many of us have had the pleasure to enjoy. Judith was equally passionate about her life in Tuscany, and she has entertained many of us with her stories about renovating her house alla maniera italiana.

Judith has contributed on so many levels, from her great knowledge of industrial relations in New Zealand to the professional development of many mediators.  She was accomplished in the world of academia, worked internationally and nationally and most importantly with people who have had problems that need resolving. She will be missed by so many, along with her warm, positive and brilliant smile.    

Pele Walker, with contributions from Judy Dell, Keith Shaw, Anna Quinn and Deb Clapshaw.