Garth George Powell FRACS
21 July 1923 - 15 August 2014
Garth Powell was born in Te Karaka, on the east coast of the North Island just out of Wairoa, to George Powell, a mechanic, and Alice (nee Price), a midwife. He was the eldest of three children with two sisters, Dorothy and Valerie. The family later moved into Wairoa, where Garth attended Wairoa Primary School. He then spent five years as a boarder at Kings College in Auckland where he excelled in rugby and was both Captain of the First XV and Head Boy. Garth left school in 1942 with a bursary to Otago University for first year medicine choosing this as a career having been enormously impressed by Axel Munthe's "Story of San Michele".
Gaining entry into medical school, Garth enjoyed a further five years in Dunedin as a medical student with time to play golf, rugby, and hockey as well as participating actively in many student goings-on. Qualifying MB ChB, Garth spent three years as a house surgeon at Wellington Hospital followed by two years as a registrar in the Eye Department during which Barrie Jones, a tremendously helpful and knowledgeable ophthalmologist (later distinguished Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology at the University of London), convinced him that this should be his career specialty. To accumulate funds and to gain a wider view of the world, Garth enlisted in the New Zealand Army replacing a medical officer in The 16th Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery in Korea. Korea provided experience of a wide range of surgery, injuries, and medicine. After 17 months in Japan and Korea and achieving the rank of Captain, Garth was released to further his professional studies.
Deciding the UK would be the best place for post-graduate experience, Garth travelled as an unpaid ship's surgeon. Arriving in London, he had accommodation in London House where two long-time friends, Evan McKenzie and David Cole, briefed him on getting around in London and on the post-graduate scene. In order to ensure a pass in the Primary Fellowship, Garth was encouraged to join private classes conducted by "crammers". He then spent two years at Moorfields Eye Hospital during which he achieved Final Fellowship.
As there was not an immediate opportunity to return to practice in Auckland, Garth responded to an advertisement in the British Medical Journal for the post of ophthalmologist at the Government of Qatar in the Persian Gulf. There he met Mary Gaunt, a nurse from The Royal London Hospital, and they were subsequently married by the British Consul to Qatar.
In 1960, after five years away from New Zealand, Garth and Mary packed up and embarked for Auckland, where with the help of Lindo Ferguson, whose consulting rooms Garth initially shared, he commenced practice. Charles Swanston was also very supportive at this time. The following year Garth gained his FRACS. It took a further three and a half years for him to gain an appointment at Auckland Hospital, retaining that until compulsory retirement at 65 years of age. Garth was very professional and collegial throughout his career. He enjoyed clinical teaching and was generous with his time and knowledge to young house surgeons and registrars, there being a steady stream of young doctors for dinner at the Powell home.
Garth served in a number of roles during his career - Honorary Secretary to the NZMA's Auckland branch, Delegate to the NZMA's National Council, President of the Auckland Save the Children Fund, President of the Friends of his sons' and daughters' schools and, in retirement, he was a member of Auckland Youthtown Board of Management, a Rotarian, a church vestryman and volunteered at the local Community Police Centre. He was active in yachting, skiing, tramping and angling.
Garth was outgoing, with a great sense of humour, adventurous in sports and outdoor activities, and was well-travelled to exotic destinations. A good pianist, he loved music and opera, as well as popular entertainment such as TV drama and comedy.
Garth had a long and fulfilling life, reaching the age of 91. Garth is survived by his wife Mary, two sons, Nick (forensic scientist) and Chris (business manager), two daughters, Amanda (public policy advisor) and Lucy (public relations consultant) and four grandchildren.
This obituary is based upon notes recorded by Garth with contributions from his family.
Allan Panting FRACS