Alan Robert McKenzie, FRCS, FRACS
11 April 1929 - 14 October 2014
Alan McKenzie was born on 11 April 1929 in the Manse of the Presbyterian Church at Port Chalmers, Dunedin to Jessie (Harrington) and James McKenzie. He was the youngest of three children with a brother, Malcolm and sister, Marion. When Alan was three years old his parents accepted a call to the Epsom Parish in Auckland where the family lived in the large manse on the church property which also included a tennis court. He attended Epsom Normal School and later Auckland Grammar, where he was an "average student", playing violin in the school orchestra, rugby for the 2nd fifteen and participating in boxing and swimming. Alan's decision to become a doctor appeared to have been greatly influenced by the family's commitment to the church and his close connection with several extended family members who were missionaries.
Spending two years at Auckland University Alan completed his medical intermediate and began at Otago Medical School in 1950. A bursary and a small grant for ministers' sons added to the money required for Knox College. Alan described his Knox residency as the most stimulating experience of his life, with talk, argument and discussion over meals with other students of varied backgrounds and training. Through the Student Christian Movement he met and fell in love with Marjorie Ward a "beautiful, sensible science student" from St Margaret's College and they married in 1955. Alan's sixth year was spent at Auckland Hospital with his bursary bond then requiring three years' work in hospitals where vacancies could not be filled. Alan commenced at Cook Hospital, Gisborne, where he was greatly influenced by Theo Hall, Bill Shiach, and Bill Park, an orthopaedic surgeon. Second year as a house surgeon was spent at New Plymouth, where their first child, Jane, was born. For the third year Alan was directed to Thames Hospital, where as a house surgeon/junior registrar he was encouraged in surgery and particularly orthopaedic surgery through the visits of Auckland consultant, Peter Kirker.
Deciding upon a career as an orthopaedic surgeon, Alan applied to Dunedin and was appointed as an orthopaedic registrar and a lecturer at the Medical School. To complete the FRACS general surgery experience was required and Alan then worked a year with Stanley Wilson followed by a year as thoracic registrar with John Borrie and then a further year as a senior orthopaedic registrar. Their second child, Alan, was born during this time. Unfortunately the final FRACS examination proved to be a hurdle and his Dunedin mentors, Alan Alldred and Norman Nisbet, arranged for him to go to the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital at Oswestry. As a College Fellowship was a requirement Alan and Marjorie first settled in London where he attended courses and tutoring at St Thomas's Hospital, the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, and the popular Apley's Course. With this preparation the FRCS examination was satisfactorily completed. Following locum roles at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital he completed a two year term at Oswestry, where their third child, David, was born. This was followed by a year of research with a Laming Evans Fellowship at Buckston Browne House in Kent, spent in the making and testing of a barbed suture for tendon repair.
Alan and the family returned to Dunedin in 1966, where their fourth child, Helene, was born. Alan worked at Dunedin Hospital and subsequently began part-time private practice with rooms in George Street. It was during this time that Alan and Marjorie began to critically examine their Christian faith. Alan moved to Auckland in 1971, as a generalist orthopaedic surgeon with a particular interest in joint replacement, hand, and spinal surgery. With Geoff Lamb and John Cullen, he was instrumental in establishing the Orthopaedic Department at Auckland Hospital. This represented a major change at that time and commenced with elective surgery followed later by a gradual expansion to acute surgery, at first on only two or three days per week. These small beginnings formed the basis for the current large and busy orthopaedic department at Auckland Hospital. Alan was very interested in basic research and continued the development of "barbed" sutures working on animals, including wallabies, at the Greenlane Hospital animal laboratory.
Alan had great rapport with his patients and their care was always his primary focus. He was a thoughtful, engaging and at times a slightly mischievous personality with often well-thought but different views from established practice. He was a practical teacher, who enjoyed teaching registrars surgical anatomy, and was readily available to help struggling juniors. He was always interested in learning from younger surgeons returning from overseas. In difficult matters he gave sage advice. Alan helped younger surgeons as they commenced in private practice even to the extent of lending them his own instruments. He was content to contribute as a practical generalist orthopaedic surgeon without seeking positions of leadership.
On retirement Alan, with very strong family relationships, was content to sever ties with the orthopaedic community and move to the family holiday home at Langs Beach in Northland. He filled his life with new friends outside medicine, painting, wood turning, sailing, conservation, and astronomical photography. For Alan, the beauty and infinity of the cosmos confirmed his atheism. In his final years his vision and determination led to the creation of a coastal path between Langs Beach and Waipu Cove, sharing the beautiful land and seascape that he had enjoyed for many years. He died after a short illness with Marjorie at his side. Alan is survived by his wife, Marjorie, children Jane, Alan, David, Helene and 3 grandchildren.
This obituary is based upon Alan's short autobiography with contributions from John Cullen FRACS, Gordon Howie FRACS, and Alan McKenzie FANZCA.