I was saddened to hear of the passing of Rex Makin a few days ago. I qualified as a solicitor in Liverpool in 1984. In all the time since, I spoke to him face to face on only one occasion. I felt like I had just had an audience with the Pope. It was that important.
In my early days as a personal injury solicitor, I acted for insurance companies in compensation claims. Rex would be on my case, rebuking me for failing to reply to letters within 3 days and mocking my involvement in the local law society. This was a simple attempt to distract me whilst he got on with the business of making sure he secured the best settlement for his client. I soon learned. All letters I received were on half size sheets of paper. I was lucky to get more than one sentence.
Rex always stood up for what he believed in. His views on a variety of subjects were articulated in his regular column in the Liverpool Echo. Sometime in the 1990s I was shown an exchange of complaint correspondence between Rex and Mr Hagan who was the senior administrator for the County Court in the old QE2 days. The letters sent by Rex were, to say the least vitriolic – but also very clever. It was a regular weekly exchange between the two on a variety of subjects. Mr Hagan was always very courteous in his reply despite enormous provocation. Dealing with these matters was a significant distraction for Mr Hagan but when the staff set up a retirement party for him – guess who was top of the list of invitations!
Rex was also a huge supporter of the arts in Liverpool. I set up a function many years ago at the Walker Art Gallery. When I said that I was a solicitor the staff told me about the contributions that Rex had made to the gallery. In fact they said he was the fourth largest benefactor. A private exhibition was set up for him to say “thank you”. Apparently significant subterfuge had to be used to get him there. I am told that despite outward signs to the contrary, he openly wept when he got there and realised what had been done for him.
He qualified as a solicitor in 1949 and in 2009 Liverpool Law Society made a Lifetime Achievement Award to him after 60 years service in the legal profession.
At the time that I qualified his presence here in Liverpool made a big impression on me and many others of my generation. His approach to challenging authority and speaking out when things were wrong was something that we all had to follow. If you wanted to get on you had a lot to learn from Rex. I am firmly of the view that by raising the bar he played a significant part in establishing Liverpool as a centre of legal excellence.
Many people applauded him for what he did. Many others could not agree – particularly if they were on the receiving end of his acerbic wit and challenge. Whichever way you looked at him you always respected him and right now all with be sorry to learn of his passing.
Will there ever be another Rex in Liverpool or elsewhere? I can say “never” with certainty. It really is the end of an era.
Director of Liverpool Law Society