Whitianga resident, Ernie Pitchfork, might not only be a close embodiment of the expression “Jack of all trades”, he seems to be a master of all too – from being a highly successful chemist, lawyer, author, and fuel and lubricant specialist to previous Whitianga Lions president, co-founder of the Whitianga MenzShed and now avid carpenter.
When asked about his motives behind his “chopping and changing” career, or more suitably careers, despite all the success he found in each, Ernie summed it up in a rather casual manner. “I don’t know really, I just thought it was a good idea at the time,” he said.
Born near the Tower of London, Ernie’s first day on Earth was the day bombs were dropped in the area by Nazi Germany in World War II. “I suppose it wasn’t the politest introduction to life,” he comments. He noted that other than this, his youth was “quite uneventful” apart from “strangely enough” being sent off to a Jewish school by his parents, despite not being Jewish himself.
After finishing school, Ernie studied chemistry at university and gained a doctorate while working in the general field of medicinal chemistry. During his time as a junior research fellow at the United Kingdom Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, Ernie was studying the molecules that can be found in the antimalarial drug, Paludrine, a much needed drug for the troops who fought in the Far East during World War II. In his research, he discovered that the reaction caused by the drug in the body could be used to form a wide variety of similar compounds. “It was a strange phenomenon when I had to take Paludrine when I was visiting Sri Lanka many years ago,” he said. “I took some pride in knowing that it was stopping me from contracting malaria by causing the ‘Pitchfork Reaction’ in my body.”
After earning his doctorate, Ernie continued his love affair with chemistry as a lecturer in Liverpool. “This was when the Beatles and Freddie and the Dreamers were at the heights of their fame, although I must admit I was never really into them like everyone else at the time,” he says. “It’s safe to say I was a bit of a nerd.”
Due to the high unemployment rate at the time, Ernie was unfortunately made redundant, hence him spending the next 10 years in the oil industry as a fuel and lubricants specialist. “It was a fascinating industry,” he says. “I flew around the world and always had an overnight bag packed ready to go. In this time, I also got married, had one son and transferred companies.”
Working for his new employer, Ernie faced a problem that many come across at least once in their lives. “I didn’t like the people I was working for and they didn’t like me,” he says. “Worst of all I was bored.”
Being unsatisfied in his new job, Ernie was motivated to study law, the career he is best known for today. With a family that was depending on him, he worked during the day and studied at night. He ended up not only passing the bar exam, but being awarded top marks in the whole of the UK and becoming a barrister in 1978.
After spending some time practising as a barrister, Ernie returned to the world of academia where he flourished as a lecturer at a private London law school. It was also the time he began writing the 27 books he authored to assist students studying towards the bar exam. “Despite being recently divorced, life was going really well,” he says. “I had this incredible job with a short commuting time and an apartment near Richmond Park. Then I met this woman…”
“This woman” is Ernie’s wife, Linda Stratford, who attended a party he was invited to. At the party, it took Ernie a nanosecond to correct the host who introduced Linda as an Australian, immediately recognising her Kiwi accent.
“All it took for Linda to fall madly in love was for a Pom who could tell the difference between an Australian and a New Zealand accent,” laughs Ernie. “When I found out we both like red wine, I naturally followed her back to New Zealand. Life can get complicated when you meet ‘the woman.’ Out of all of my careers, I abandoned the job I loved the most to be with this woman. It was the best thing I ever did, I only wish I did it sooner.”
Initially establishing themselves in Auckland, Ernie and Linda migrated to Whitianga in 2014. “Funnily enough, the first thing I did when I arrived was pick up a copy of The Informer, which is where I discovered a ‘Movember’ event that was being held,” says Ernie. “Being through a bout of prostate cancer myself, I signed up. This introduced me to a men’s coffee morning group which mainly consisted of Whitianga Lions.”
After initially being resistant, thinking it wouldn’t be his “thing”, Ernie became a Lions member and a few years later was asked to take on the role of president. “To be elected as president of the Whitianga Lions was one of the biggest honours I’ve had the privilege of experiencing,” he says.
Through his membership of the Lions, Ernie was involved in the setup of the trust owning the Whitianga x-ray facility as well as the establishment of the Whitianga MenzShed. “If you’re a lawyer, you’ll know you’ll never really retire,” he laughs.
Out of all of Ernie’s achievements, he claims one of his proudest yet is the first ever piece of carpentry he created with the help of the MenzShed – the mailbox that stands at the end of his and Linda’s driveway. He has gone on to make several high quality pieces of woodwork since, however hands on activities were always out of his comfort zone. “It’s just not something I was encouraged to do as a kid,” he says. “So understandably, when I first tried to make something at the MenzShed, I didn’t know one end of a hammer from the other, but I have improved massively since.
“Leaving the UK to move to New Zealand was a good idea at the time. Joining the Whitianga Lions was a good idea at the time. Giving the MenzShed a go was another good idea at the time. And they all still are.”
Pictured is former chemist, lawyer and Whitianga Lions president, Ernie Pitchfork, with his wife,
Linda Stratford, at their mailbox – the first piece of carpentry Ernie has ever made.