Brought up in Wellington, Robin Handley Stockley Smith spent two years as a journalist followed by a brief stint in the grocery trade before deciding to enter the church. Between university in Wellington and theology studies in Christchurch came holiday work on the wharves and driving trucks. He married Winifred Berry (he had first met her at Church when she was aged 15) in Wellington in 1953 and began his service as a curate in Marton in 1956 then served the church in Pongaroa, Taita and Eltham before being appointed Vicar of the Geraldine Parish in 1974. During his career he also served 16 years as a territorial captain with the New Zealand Infantry.
Shrugging off the stereotyped tea-sipping vicar image he worked on mixing with his parishioners, even meeting them over a pint in the pub. He was renowned for his sharp wit and straight-faced repartee which allowed him to quickly put people at ease but sometimes ruffled a few feathers. Reflecting on his personality he made no apology for his directness. “I like to think people will realise they won’t get garbage from me. But I do like repartee, …it is another sport for me,” said the man who counted golf, squash, hockey and rugby amongst his interests.
He was a strong supporter and member of the Labour Party and even contemplated life as an M.P. but was careful not to use the church as a platform for his opinions. He was opposed to the conservative authoritarian approach of quoting directly from the Bible text, he believed in putting responsibility on to people to make their own decisions and live with them.
He felt that pontificating from the pulpit carries with it a protective veneer, while speaking to people at ground level invites dialogue. He removed the old wooden pews and pulpit from St Mary’s Church in Geraldine, replacing them with comfortable chairs and more intimate informal dialogue.
His service was recognised with appointment as Rural Dean, then an Honorary Canon of Christchurch Cathedral. In 1983 he was appointed as Archdeacon of Timaru and in the same year he was elected to the Diocesan Standing Committee. He was also appointed a member of the College House (Christchurch) board of governors. After leaving Geraldine he spent seven years at St Mary’s in Timaru as the Archdeacon of South Canterbury. In his retirement he worked as a Consulting Vicar and as a Canon of Christchurch Cathedral.