Melvin Joseph Parun was yesterday named as one of the people who died in the Loafers Lodge fire.
One of the people confirmed dead in the deadly Loafers Lodge fire last week was a well-liked and “eccentric” former member of the Wellington legal community.
He was also a talented tennis player, having coached the sport in Germany in his earlier life, and was the brother of one of New Zealand’s most successful players, Onny Parun.
Melvin Joseph Parun, 68, was named by police as one of the five people confirmed dead in the tragic blaze on Adelaide Rd, believed to be caused by arson.
Parun formerly practised criminal law in the Wellington District Court, where colleagues described him as a kind man who was dedicated to his work and took on all cases – not just the ones he knew he would win.
“He was an engaging and interesting personality in law,” said lawyer Val Nisbet.
Nisbet used to play tennis with Parun, who was a “great tennis player”.
Robert Lithgow KC said Parun “didn’t have a mean bone in his body”.
“People liked him and clients liked him.”
Lithgow remembered at one challenging point of Parun’s life he was living in his office in Wellington, so was not surprised that he might have chosen a hostel to live in rather than choose to move in with his relatives.
“He wasn’t a complainer, he just dealt with life’s difficult situations as they arose.”
But things began to go downhill for Parun when he and lawyer Kenneth Bulmer took a legal case against the Court of Appeal practice of allowing High Court judges to sit on Court of Appeal cases before returning to the High Court.
Lithgow said he was present during at least one of the hearings for the matter, and that he felt the court was “openly hostile and derisory” towards Parun.
When the case did not go his way, Parun did not take it well and moved to Australia to work as a company lawyer.
Many of the lawyers in the Wellington community did not have contact with Parun once he moved away, and some were surprised to hear of his death, having believed he was still in Australia.
“This business with the Court of Appeal sort of left a sour taste.”
Lithgow said he and many others believed Parun was in the right.
“I tried to tell him that but he had become very, you know, just entangled in the thing and he divided the world into those that agreed with him and those that didn’t according to his own analysis.”
Prominent human rights lawyer Tony Ellis described Parun’s court cases with Bulmer as “the beginning of the downfall of Mel”.
“It got quite acrimonious,” he said.
“I can recall them both standing outside [a Wellington court] with placards protesting it.”
He believed there had been some mental health issues at play, but “I don’t think in those years we were as good at recognising it”.
Before that, Ellis recalled a “dedicated” and “able, if somewhat eccentric barrister” with a passion for his work.
District Court was about “theatre and facts” and Parun was “very good at that”.
Lawyer Nigel Moody, who went through university with Parun, described him as a “fantastic tennis player” and a bright, kind, and generous man.
“It’s very, very sad and I’m really feeling for his kids.”
An obituary published today for Parun said he was beloved and would be sadly missed by many family members.
A service to honour his life is to be held on Friday.
Two other people have been named so far as victims of the fire. Peter Glenn O’Sullivan, 64, and Michael Wahrlich, 67, known to many as Mike the Juggler.
Two more bodies have also been recovered from the fire but their names have not yet been released.
Police continue to search the charred ruins of the hostel, but have said the instability and high amount of debris is making the search slow.
Fewer than 10 people remain unaccounted for.
A 48-year-old man was arrested and charged last week with two counts of arson in relation to the fire.
He was granted interim name suppression in the Wellington District Court and remanded in custody to reappear in court next month.