Caleb Lewis Tucker
General Surgeon
12 May 1919 - 23 November 2012

Caleb Tucker was born in Ashburton, the second of four children, of Edward, a timber and joinery business owner, and Elizabeth Tucker. Both parents were keen musicians, his mother a pianist and his father playing the cornet, and Caleb was encouraged to learn the piano. He was educated at Ashburton High School where at a pre-enrolment meeting the headmaster, Mr E A Cockroft suggested that Caleb take an academic course including Latin and French rather than pursuing accountancy with the intent of joining the family building firm.

On completing school in 1937 Caleb decided on a career in medicine and gained entry to the Otago Medical School in Dunedin. Completing his MB ChB in 1943 he began his medical career as a house surgeon at Palmerston North Hospital (1944-1946). This was a time when infectious diseases such as diphtheria were still common. His success in saving the life of a teenager from this disease was described in the BMJ.

Caleb applied for a surgical course at the Middlesex Hospital in London, hoping to commence in 1947, but was given entry to an earlier course. He fortuitously secured a place as a ship's surgeon which enabled him to arrive in time. He was amused to relate that on the ship his main work was putting temporary fillings into crew members' teeth, and that the ship drifted for a while when its steering mechanism broke down as they rounded Cape Horn. In progressing towards his FRCS he worked at St Mary's Hospital for Women and Children, Plaistow; Middlesex Hospital; Miller General Hospital, Greenwich; Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Taplow; the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary; Lambeth Hospital, London; Woolwich Memorial Hospital, Shooters Hill and Guy's Hospital. While working in Derbyshire he met Josephine Penn, a nurse who had previously trained as a teacher and music teacher, and they married in 1951.

Caleb and Josephine returned to New Zealand in 1951 where he worked initially as locum surgeon-superintendent at Ashburton Hospital, before moving further south to Oamaru Hospital as a surgeon 1951-54 and as surgeon-superintendent 1955-1964. He gained the FRACS in 1957. Caleb enjoyed the challenge of a wide variety of surgical procedures, which included treating injuries sustained by workers from the Benmore Hydro Project. Oamaru provided Caleb and Josephine with the opportunity to continue their love of music, joining the Oamaru Music Society and participating in choral stage productions where Josephine was a valued accompanist on the piano, and Caleb a useful tenor. Caleb had a caring approach to young and old, at an early stage learning from his patients that the human spirit could never be underestimated. Particularly memorable was an 80-year-old woman on whom he operated after she had been advised she had an "inoperable carcinoma of the pelvic colon" and had been given a short time to live. Twenty years later, Caleb attended her 100th birthday, and she lived to be 107. During his time at Oamaru Hospital Caleb worked with dental colleagues to establish free-of-charge dental services, a pioneering service model which was adopted elsewhere in New Zealand.

In1965, Caleb was appointed Medical Superintendent of the Wellington Hospital, after being encouraged to apply for the position by the retiring incumbent, Dr John North.  Caleb retained the position for 19 years, until his retirement in 1984. During this time an extensive range of new services and facilities were initiated. A major development was the establishment of the University of Otago Clinical School at Wellington Hospital, enabling medical students to spend their fourth and fifth years in Wellington. Caleb actively encouraged younger members of the medical staff in their professional development.

Throughout his life, Caleb's personal values and his dedication as a health professional were grounded in his Christian faith. In 1971 he founded a branch of the Christian Medical Fellowship in Wellington becoming its long-serving secretary. He had a lifetime interest in supporting health services and colleagues working in the third world. Caleb was noted for his hospitality - with a willingness to converse with new company and a ready invitation to the family Sunday roast lunch for visitors to church. He was noted also for his love of quality clothing and attention to his personal appearance.

In his retirement Caleb continued to pursue many of his interests including playing of the piano and the challenge of gardening on his Wellington hillside property. Commencing golf following the move to Wellington he became a regular player for the rest of his life. Throughout his life Caleb was an avid reader of a wide variety of books which he shared with friends and acquaintances. In his last year of life he continued to read medical journals and other relevant books some of which he donated to the library at the Clinical School in Wellington.

Unfortunately his last years were limited by hearing loss and his last few months by a stroke. His well- attended funeral at Wellington's Central Baptist Church was a celebration of his long and productive life. Caleb is survived by his wife, Josephine, and children Mark (graphic designer), John (aircraft engineer) and Anne (publishing tutor) and granddaughter, Anthea.

We are grateful to Caleb's family and to Dr R B W Smith (Wellington) and Dr N A Wilson (Wellington) for this obituary.


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