Obituary, Geoff Ricketts

It is with sadness that the University learned of the death of alumnus and Chair of The University of Auckland Foundation, Geoff Ricketts CNZM. Geoff died at home with his family on Friday 10 March after a short illness. He was 77.

Geoff’s connections to the University of Auckland are many and generational. His father, James (Jim) was an alumnus, his wife Fran an alumna, and two of their four children graduated from this university.

Geoff graduated LLB (Hons) in 1970 and started his career at Russell McVeagh. He worked there, on both sides of the Tasman, for over 25 years becoming a senior partner and chair of the board. Later he worked for the firm as a consultant. Over the decades he held directorships in more than 200 companies including some of this country’s best known: The Todd Corporation, Lion Nathan, Royal and Sun Alliance and Heartland Bank.

He was a widely respected and well-connected business leader, considered one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best commercial chairmen who brought to any board of directors considerable institutional knowledge and experience in commercial law, mergers and acquisitions, and governance, together with a strong sense of integrity and probity. The University has been a beneficiary of that ability and experience.

When the University’s philanthropic arm, The University of Auckland Foundation, was established in January 2000, Geoff was the establishment Chair and retained the position of Chair until his death. He guided it with considerable skill through the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the Covid-19 market crash of 2020 and under his stewardship the Foundation has become an integral and valuable financial supporter of the University’s people and research.

When asked for the number one thing he had learned about strategic philanthropy, he replied, “If you can put your hand up for a cause you believe in and put your hands in your pocket at the same time to support it, others in the community will follow. That has been the case for me with the University of Auckland Foundation and,” he added “the Ipipiri Nature Conservancy Trust,” which he and Fran Ricketts had helped establish to purchase and preserve Elliot Bay and the surrounding native forest in Northland.

In addition to his work with the Foundation, he was a member of the University Business School Supporters Council, the Law School Innovation and Development committee and chaired the campaign committees of the University’s – and New Zealand’s – two most successful fundraising campaigns. His own and Fran’s philanthropy included gifts to the Law and Business Schools, for fellowships and for the prestigious Kupe Leadership Scholarships.

Beyond campus, Geoff, with Fran, was a strong supporter of education and the visual and performing arts. He was also on the advisory board of the NEXT Foundation. In 2013 he received the Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to education, the arts and business; and in 2022 he was made a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Directors. The University made him an Honorary Fellow in 2006 and awarded an Honorary Doctorate in 2016.

Geoff Ricketts worked alongside three Vice-Chancellors, seven Chancellors and numerous other staff. He will be remembered by those who knew him as a kind man, thoughtful and considered, with a gentle, dry sense of humour. A man who made a point of recognising other people’s work while making little of his own significant contributions.