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Terence Christopher O'Brien (6 January 1936 – 30 December 2022) was a New Zealand diplomat. He led New Zealand in 1993 to a seat on the U N Security Council and played a strong role in helping to reshape New Zealand's perceptions of itself as a small but fiercely independent nation in the South Pacific.

Early Life.

O'Brien was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire  on 6 January 1936. His father, Wing Commander Oliver James O'Brien, was a pilot in the  RAF who was sent to New Zealand during the WW2   to train pilots who fought in the battle of Britain. In 1940, Terence  moved with his mother and sister to New Zealand by boat, narrowly avoiding being torpedoed by German U-boats to follow his father who had taken up a post as Chief Air Instructor to the Royal New Zealand Air Force  (RNZAF). Shortly after the end of the war, O'Brien returned from New Zealand, via ship, to the United Kingdom to be educated at Beaumont  and later University College Oxford   where he read history. Following graduation, he returned to New Zealand with which he had developed a great affinity in his early years and joined the then Department of External Affairs (subsequently the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade ) in 1959.

O'Brien became a naturalised New Zealand citizen in 1962.


O'Brien served as a diplomat with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for over 40 years from 1959 – 2001. He held early postings in the 1960s in Bangkok, London, and Brussels. It was in Brussels that as a first secretary he helped New Zealand to negotiate a special deal with the European Community giving access for New Zealand dairy products to Europe when the United Kingdom joined the Community in 1972. O'Brien then served as High Commissioner to the Cook Islands (1975–77), and then as Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva (1980–83), to the European Community  in Brussels (1983–86) and finally to the United Nations in New York (1990–93) where he was instrumental in helping New Zealand to secure a seat on the UN Security Council. He was President of the U N Security Council  during the war in Yugoslavia. While in New York, his leadership was a critical factor in New Zealand's securing that seat  despite competition from more favoured countries such as Spain and Sweden. Given the nickname  “Chardonnay” O'Brien" first by former prime minister David Lange   and later by the New Zealand media for his love of a good glass of wine and a good cocktail party, O'Brien was known for his global view and his articulation of the role of New Zealand as an independent and free-thinking country with its own values and way of doing things. O'Brien had always believed that small countries like New Zealand need to use and support international institutions such as the United Nations to promote common and universal values  and have influence in international affairs.

He is also thought to be the only New Zealander who over the course of his long and distinguished diplomatic career occupied all three posts of New Zealand Ambassador to the UN in Geneva,  New Zealand Ambassador to the EU in Brussels, and later New Zealand Ambassador to the UN in New York.

Later Years.

In 1993 O'Brien was appointed Founding Director of the New Zealand Centre for Strategic Studies.  He served as Director for almost 8 years until his retirement in 2001, earning the new institution a respected reputation and high public profile.  

In 2009, O'Brien published a book entitled 'Presence of Mind: New Zealand in the World'. The book is a selection of writings on the place of New Zealand in the world reflecting on the position of a small country such as New Zealand and its place on the international stage from the perspective of a small, internationally minded, modern and multicultural democracy. The book stresses the importance of New Zealand taking an independent view on international affairs, reflecting its heritage as a nation located in the south-west Pacific with both Maori and European roots. The book showed enormous foresight in future describing New Zealand's new place in the world and represents a departure from many of the tunnel vision views of the past as expressed by some New Zealand politicians and diplomats.

In 2016, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, he established the Terence O’Brien Scholarship in International Affairs at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. The scholarship aims to recognise and encourage top Honours and Master’s students in International Relations and Strategic Studies who are studying some aspect of international governance, multilateral diplomacy or cooperation in the political, economic, or security areas. Every year since 2016, one student has received the scholarship award. Each student receives a copy of Terence O'Brien's book 'Presence of Mind: New Zealand in the World'.

During 2012, Terence O'Brien wrote several articles arguing against proposed reforms in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  His argument was that becoming a diplomat requires a special type of skill and that treating the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a purely or even a mainly business approach was short-sighted and not to the long-term benefit of New Zealand. He turned out to be right.

Right up until mid-2021 when he suffered a stroke which limited his mobility, O'Brien continued to contribute part-time as an Advisor to the Centre of Strategic Studies  and he was also a regular contributor to the New Zealand media on foreign policy issues. He also spoke on multiple occasions at events organised by Diplosphere,  a non-partisan and independent think tank set up and managed by his daughter-in-law, Maty Nikkhou O'Brien with support from one of his sons, Daniel O'Brien.

O'Brien died in Wellington Hospital on 30 December 2022, at the age of 86 after having been in hospital for slightly over a month.

On 22 March 2023, Diplosphere organized an event in Wellington on 'Forging an Independent Foreign Policy for New Zealand: Terence O'Brien's imprint.

Terence O'Brien's memoirs entitled "Consolations of Insignificance" were  published in May 2023. The forward has been written by former New Zealand Prime Minister Jim Bolger.






Richard Sheehan wrote 31 January:

I have just received a phone call telling me that Frank Staples died over the weekend.  He was a very old friend of mine, not only from Lloyd’s but also from hunting and indeed I am one of his executors. 


He had been amazingly fit, he’d run in 40 marathons all over the world [literally on all seven continents] including the Arctic marathon, the Antarctic marathon, the Everest marathon, the Eyres Rock marathon and numerous “ordinary” marathons like the London marathon – several times. On one occasion we talked about the pasta parties the night before a marathon and he said that the best one that he attended was the Venice marathon [believe it on not there is a 26 mile circuit around Venice’s islands connected by bridges].  In the riding context apart from being a regular member of the Beaufort his Irish family were the Ryans of Scarteen fame with whom he’d hunted and of course his late wife Sarah was Mark Philips sister – I was Franks best man, so quite a loss.  


Sarah out hunting: she died unexpectantly in 2014


He’d had a fall last year when visiting Compostella but had recovered from that and was happily living on his own in Wiltshire.  However ,at the end of the autumn he had another fall in his garden from which he was unable to get up and he was stuck there all night and only found the next morning by the postman – by then he was unconscious.  He recovered however, spending three weeks in hospital and I went to see him in late November – unfortunately, he was still waiting to get an alarm which would allow him to leave the house to have a pub lunch.  I phoned him again before I came over to Ireland suggesting lunch but he told me that he was due to go to the doctor the next day because his legs had swollen.  So, I said that I ‘d call to see him when I returned from Ireland – but I’ve just got the sad news today that he’s died.  May he rest in peace.

Below is the eulogy given by Richard.

Frank Staples was born in January 1940 in Quetta, Baluchistan, which was then in British India, and has of course been in  the newly formed Pakistan since 1947.  So, from the very beginning Frank had an involvement in other places on the globe.  Indeed, he became a member of the Marathon Grand Slam Club for which he qualified by running in Marathons on all seven continents.  Very few people can claim that distinction.

Had Frank been born in peacetime, he would have expected to grow up in the vicinity of Lahore with his mother Marian and father Aidan Staples, until it was time for him to be sent home to school. Indeed, Frank’s sister Jo, who had also been born during a posting to Quetta 11 years earlier, had been at school in England since 1936, where as it happens Aidan’s     sister Beatrice was a nun, and spent her holidays with her Staples cousins in Tunbridge Wells, with Aidan’s brother Frank Senior’s family. All three brothers, Frank senior, Edmund and Aidan spent all or part of their careers in India, as had their father Francis Patrick Staples.

However, Frank was born in wartime. In 1942 Frank’s father, a British officer in the 8th Punjab Regiment of the Indian Army, was shipped with his battalion to help defend Singapore, only to find that the island had already fallen and they were all prisoners of the Japanese. Sadly, Aidan was to die a prisoner.

By 1943, in India, it was thought wise that the families of British forces return to the U.K. and so Frank and his mother began the voyage home. Marian had to keep a firm hold of him on the ship, as it sailed through submarines infested waters. Passengers were left in no doubt that it wouldn’t stop for anyone who fell overboard.

Having arrived safely in England, Frank and Marian went to live in Tonbridge with Aidan’s eldest brother and his family, where Frank met his sister Jo, when she was on holiday from school, and his Staples cousins Felicity, Perpetua, Justin and Brigid.

While Felicity Staples worked at Bletchley Park, all Frank’s other Staples cousins were too young to join the War effort. After the war Justin was to join the diplomatic service and in the 1980s, while Ambassador to Thailand, Justin, with his wife Susan, were to be superb hosts to Frank and Jo, and Jo’s husband Mark, when they travelled to Bangkok to visit Jo and Frank’s father’s grave at Kunchanaberi.  In 1947, through the kind support of Marian’s brother, Norman Leonard, Frank and Marian moved to Wiltshire where, essentially, Frank lived ever since and where they became parishioners of this church.

After his schooldays at St John’s and afterwards at Beaumont, with Norman’s help he took up a career as a broker in the Lloyd’s insurance market becoming a Director of Bradstocks.   He divided his time between Wiltshire and London, spending most weekends with his mother who he was devoted to and initially from 1957 onwards, week nights with his sister Jo, brother-in-law Mark and their family Philippa and David,

Although I’d attended the same school as Frank he had left before my time but I got to know him when we met as brokers in Lloyd’s.  A significant connection arose because of a shared interest in horses. 

From an early age the influence of horses was very strong in Frank’s life.  Firstly, he was a regular member of the Beaufort Hunt Pony Club Team.  A good friend from school told me that he remembered competing against Frank in the Pony Club Championships which Frank won for the Beaufort.  Indeed, at school he was allowed to ride and exercise a pony for a mutual friend at Eton who was not allowed to do so.

Frank was also a very enthusiastic teacher and by the early 60s had taught his niece and nephew and cousin Paula to ride, when they were staying with Marian in Wiltshire as frequent visitors. Philippa and his future wife Sarah, also became good friends in the 1960s through the friendship of their grandmothers and love of horses and dogs.

In1976 before their marriage, they (Sarah Philipps and Frank) both met up in Bromont Canada with their respective families, for the equestrian events of the Montreal Olympics: Sarah being there to support her brother Mark, and Frank and his sister Jo, to see Norman’s younger daughter Jenny, and her family who lived in the States.

In 1977, Frank inherited a hunter called Charlie Boy, from a friend of his from Lloyds, and kept him at Sarah’s family home. From there Sarah and Frank’s friendship blossomed. 

Hunting was in Frank’s family, which included the Ryans, the owners of the Scarteen Hunt in Ireland with whom he hunted with his wife Sarah some years later.  So, growing up Frank became a regular hunting member of the Beaufort Hunt and with Sarah he was a fence judge for many years at Badminton and at Gatcombe.  Frank and Sarah had a mutual love of horses and dogs and both living at Great Somerford they met through that connection and married in 1981. Indeed, I had the honour of being Frank’s best man. 

Sadly, Sarah died in 2014 after a very happy marriage living in Great Somerford among their many friends.

When Charlie Boy had to be retired, Frank essentially stopped riding and took up running. He said afterwards that seeing his nephew David go for a run in Dauntsey, (a very rare event anywhere, as it happens), reminded him how much he had enjoyed cross country running at school.

When one door CLOSES another door OPENS – how true in Frank’s case. During the week when he was working in Lloyd’s he lived in London and in 1988 he ran there in the first of his 41 Marathons.  Prior to that he took part in what I understand was the first Ride and Tie Marathon at Cirencester Park which was organised by the Arab Horse Society. 

Frank took up Marathon running in a big way.  Firstly, he took part in the Great North Run which is a half Marathon the distance that he’d trained for in the Ride and Tie event. After that he completed his first London Marathon. 

To Frank the London Marathon became a routine Marathon because he completed it eight times.  Indeed, in 2005 having completed the Antarctic Marathon while on the way back to complete in yet another London Marathon, he completed the Findel Mondo event in Tierra Del Fuego.  In 2007 although he did not actually run the distance between Cape Town and the North Pole, he completed the Cape Town and the North Pole Marathons.

He became a member of the Marathon Grand Slam Club by completing Marathons on all seven continents. This included the Everest Base Camp Marathon, the Eyers Rock Marathon in Australia, Marathons in Phuket, Thailand, Honolulu, Quebec, Maui, the Red Sea Marathon, the Ethiopia Marathon and many other Marathons in places like New York and Boston.  Indeed, he kindly gave me a piece of the Berlin Wall having competed in the Berlin Marathon shortly after the Wall came down.

But it was not all punishing running in extreme heat or cold depending on the event.  Apart from the chance to visit so many interesting places, Frank told me about the pasta parties held the night before the events.  The best one he’d attended he said was the Venice Marathon where apparently, they can complete a marathon distance, using bridges between the islands. Many years later he competed in the Rome Marathon – so their pasta was probably every bit as good.

Clearly Frank was an excellent Marathon runner.  When he was 52 he did his best time which was in the Vienna Marathon completing that Marathon in 3hrs 27min 29 seconds.  The time for an Elite runner of that age was 3 hrs 41min 28 seconds.  So, Frank completed in nearly a quarter of an hour quicker than a good Elite runner.  He completed the Everest Base Camp Marathon when he was 70.

Beside Frank’s interest in sport and travel Frank was a great reader.  Clearly, he was interested in travel but also in military history.  Regarding his Marathons, Frank conducted detailed research, carefully preparing for each Marathon.  He consulted Ranulf Fiennes on the occasion of the Arctic and the Antarctic Marathons as well as Professor Michael Stroud, an expert on human health under extreme conditions.

As a broker in the Lloyd’s market to which he had a great devotion he was a hard worker and was very popular with the underwriters and other brokers.  His worlds therefore were Great Somerford, which he regarded as home which he shared for so many years with his loving wife Sarah.  Then he had his career in London which he greatly enjoyed.  Beyond that was the World in which he visited so may interesting places.  How many of us have been to all seven continents? Frank has, during a fulfilled life.  May he rest in peace having now gone to join Sarah and members of the family that he loved.