Alwyn James Seeley, FRCS, FRACS
13 May 1925 - 24 May 2013
Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgeon
Alwyn Seeley was born in Pukekohe on 13 May 1925. His parents, Robert and Edith Seeley, migrated to South Africa from Ulster in the north of Ireland around the time of the Boer War. Robert served in the South African Police Force for the next 22 years until, with his wife and five children, he migrated to New Zealand, where he purchased land at Pukekohe and began farming. Alwyn the sixth child was born in New Zealand. Throughout his professional and sporting career Alwyn was always called Olly by his close friends and colleagues.
Olly matriculated at Pukekohe High School in 1941, and under wartime Emergency Regulations was directed to work for a year on the family farm. Each of his three brothers served overseas and when his eldest brother returned on furlough from the army Ollie was released from his farm work, enabling him to enroll at Auckland University in 1943. Olly initially enrolled for the Agricultural Intermediate course, but early in the year elected to change to the Medical Intermediate course. Chemistry and Latin were compulsory subjects for the Medical Intermediate examination, but neither had been included in the Pukekohe High School curriculum. Olly studied both subjects intensively extramurally enabling him to pass the examination and take his place in second year at the Otago University Medical School in 1945. Olly epitomized the ideal of a "natural sportsman". In his first year at Auckland University he was selected for the New Zealand Universities rugby team as No 8. In addition to the award of a NZU Blue for rugby he was awarded a NZU Blue for tennis.
Olly qualified in 1950 and was appointed as a Junior House Surgeon at Wellington Hospital. Following two years as a Senior House Surgeon he applied for and was appointed Junior Surgical Registrar in the Department of Ear Nose and Throat Surgery with Senior Surgeons Messrs Elliott, Diamond and Duncan. During his Senior House Surgeon year Olly married Margaret Mayo (from Wellington) who had been a Physiotherapy student with him at Otago University. Together they travelled to England by sea in 1954, where Olly continued to study and take training positions in preparation for the Edinburgh Primary examination, and completed his F.R.C.S. England later that year. After further postgraduate training at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, Royal National Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital, Grays Inn Road, London; and following the birth of their eldest son, Michael, the family returned to New Zealand in 1957. This time Olly was able to obtain passage as the ship's doctor with his family.
On his return to New Zealand Olly was appointed the second part time surgeon in the Department of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery at the Waikato Hospital, joining Roland Phillips-Turner. This was to be a busy post in this rapidly expanding and increasingly urbanised farming area, providing care for the population of Waikato and King Country and taking the more complicated cases from the area between the Bay of Plenty and the East Cape. Olly appreciated that many cases of deafness appearing in his practice were suitable for treatment and cure of their deafness with the new operation of Stapedectomy, introduced in 1957 by John Shea. In 1960 Olly attended a month long course at the House Clinic in Los Angeles in order to learn and develop the technique, returning to New Zealand with the necessary instruments. He imported a Zeiss operating microscope from Germany and began to perform this revolutionary operation, in most cases restoring normal and lasting hearing. An operating microscope and instruments were soon purchased for Waikato Hospital and Olly continued to perform microsurgery there as well; alone, until joined by Malcolm Dunshea in 1964.
Olly was secretary of the New Zealand Society of Otolaryngology in 1969 and President in 1979. Although his main interest had been directed to Otology, he remained a busy and enquiring general otolaryngologist until he retired. He was elected FRACS in 1988 in recognition of his services to Otology.
Olly had a diversity of interests outside medicine. He continued to play tennis and squash until midlife. He also played golf intermittently and socially in the early years and later increased application saw his handicap reduce to near single figures.
Following the purchase of a two hectare gully adjacent to his inner city Hamilton property, Olly was an early pioneer in the conservation and development of the city's extensive gully system. Earlier in the 20th century councils responsible for urban development of the river bank and adjacent land had seen the gullies as useful additions for building sites after a 'fill, drain and cover' program. Some time later, there developed a matured appreciation of the ecological value of these gullies for the retention of the region's flora and fauna within the city and their proven and effective drainage alternatives to the river. Olly Seeley was one of the first private land owners to develop such a gully system and over 50 years he planted the area with a large and diverse representative collection of New Zealand native bush and swamp trees. Shortly before he died Olly donated this splendid area to the city and it has subsequently been named by the Council "Seeley's Gully". During his last ten years Olly advised and helped with a Waikato District Council project to replant the Wainui reserve, a 27 acre forestry block south of Raglan suitable for regeneration
Alwyn is survived by Margaret and their four children: Michael (Secondary School Teacher), Christopher(Otolaryngologist) Jane (General Practitioner) and Rachael (Recreation and Sports Co-ordinator). All are University graduates and have children.
Obituary provided by Malcolm Dunshea FRACS.