The death of Colin J. Wall on July 16, 2015, is a crushing blow to our profession and a personal loss to me.
Colin was not a lawyer. He was trained as a quantity surveyor, which (as he explained it to me) meant that he was good a figuring out what a construction change order would cost. Raised in Birmingham, he found himself posted in Hong Kong by an early employer and was consulted by Queen Mary’s Hospital, which was undergoing an extensive revision. The Hospital was receiving bids for the construction work that far exceeded its expectations. Colin noted that the building had an asbestos condition of unknown scope and expense, and he suggested that the Hospital assume the asbestos removal itself, at its own direct cost, and bid out the job on a post-removal basis. It did so, and the project went forward without a stumble.
Rebuilding a working hospital “without a stumble” turned out to be just the assignment for a person of Colin Wall’s persistent, collaborative, problem-solving, disciplined frame of mind. He established a rapport with each stakeholder, from the physicians through the administrators to the vendors, to ensure that the work progresses in a sequence and at a rate that everyone had agreed upon, expected, and knew how to accommodate. Working on building the Hong Kong airport, while it was fully operational, was a similarly revelatory example. Colin was not a blamer, but rather a fixer, and his approach to conflicts on a construction project was less that of a lawyer than a life coach, or a midwife.
He worked closely with Eric Green and became a mediator and arbitrator in global demand. He spent three weeks in Hong Kong and one at home in England, and accepted disputes in the hundreds of millions — even billions — of dollars in Asia and the Middle East. So clear was his insight, and so easygoing was his manner, that he eased into the role of a leader among us. Over the years he served as president of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb), co-president of the UIA’s world forum of mediation centers, and honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong. He was a pioneer of Dispute Advisory Boards. He chaired the Hong Kong Mediation Council, and was on the panel of distinguished neutrals of CPR, the ICDR mediation panel, the CEDR-Solve panel of mediators and numerous other panels.
I first became aware of Colin through the St. Mary’s achievement, then got to know him at the UIA Forum (where we were set up to debate a provision of the Code of Ethics in 2003 or so), at the ICC Mediation Competition, and eventually simply as a friend. When he came to the States for treatment of his cancer in the Spring, we took trips to the seaside, to the Shawangunk Mountains, and (when AMTRAK service was suspended the day before a preparatory procedure at Johns Hopkins) to Baltimore. We sang Gilbert & Sullivan. He lectured me about my practice of not contacting mediation parties except through their lawyers. We talked about our children and our plans.
His devotion to learning was unremitting, and he was an enthusiastic teacher of young and old. With Alan Linbury and Greg Bond, Colin was responsible for the recent publication of a book collecting past scenarios for the ICC International Commercial Mediation Competition, many of which he had drafted. He was a stalwart of the VIS East Arbitration Competition, known for buying time for the judges while relating the story of the maritime arbitration involving the CSS Alabama and getting the students to sing the shanty “Roll, Alabama, Roll.” A highlight of his trip to the States was the chance to view the sternpost of the USS Kearsarge, still bearing an unexploded shell from the Alabama during the Battle of Cherbourg.
In one of our last conversations, during the recent UIA Forum meeting in Amsterdam, Colin and I traded lines from Act One of The Mikado:
Katisha. (who is reading certificate of death) Ha!
Mikado. What’s the matter?
Katisha. See here — his name — Nanki-Poo — beheaded this morning. Oh, where shall I find another? Where shall I find another?