George John Alexander Wilson FRCS(Ed) FRACS
Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgeon
7 June 1925 - 27 May 2017
George Wilson was a pioneer of ENT surgery to the people of Northland, providing a marvellous regional service for over 30 years. He was the sole ENT surgeon in the region for 26 years and during that time made a major contribution to improved hearing.
George was born in Auckland to David Wilson (a plumber) and Edna Flannery (a registered nurse). He had two younger siblings - David (Buster) and Mary. George attended Whau Valley Primary School and subsequently Whangarei Boys High School. He commenced medical intermediate at Otago University in 1943 entering Medical School the following year.
George worked as a House Surgeon at Auckland Hospital 1949-1950. His personal hearing loss was noted at that time and he was seen by ENT surgeon Bill Bridgman, who recommended George should study ENT rather than other areas of medicine. As an ENT Registrar at Greenlane Hospital in 1951 (he was the first trainee at Greenlane), George met Trish Mannion (a nurse), and they married in December 1952. Just a few weeks later they sailed to the UK where George received further training at Edinburgh, Guilford and then during five years as Registrar at the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital at Grays Inn Road. George started to use hearing aids while working in England and as they had an obvious component worn on the body this sometimes proved a helpful talking point, particularly during his final fellowship oral exams. He gained his FRCS(Ed) in 1956.
George and Trish sailed back to New Zealand at the end of 1956, George working his passage as a ship's surgeon on a refrigeration ship which berthed at Port Chalmers. Northland Hospital Board was seeking an ENT surgeon to start a service for Northlanders and George commenced work at Whangarei Hospital in January 1957. As there had been no resident ENT surgeon previously, the work initially involved dealing with gross pathology. There was an epidemic of juvenile tracheo-bronchitis in the winter of 1957. Airway restoration at that time was by tracheostomy, as endotracheal intubation was not in vogue. Tonsillectomy was performed with guillotine under ether. Some years later the Doughty ET tube was used with inhalation anaesthetics.
About 1958-59 Whangarei Hospital procured a Zeiss microscope, which revolutionised ear surgery. Chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM) with its high incidence in Māori became a large part of George's practice. During the mid-1960's George went to Boston to study stapedectomy, returning to operate on many cases, as there was a large residual population with otosclerosis. He also returned with the first grommet produced by Sheehy.
George travelled regularly to the small peripheral hospitals at Kaitaia, Rawene and Dargaville. In the early years he spent two - three weeks away each time as the journey was long and slow on metal roads. The concept of the Ear Caravan for managing CSOM was conceived by Sir Patrick Eisdell-Moore, but there were issues in Auckland so the first one came to Northland in about 1975. The van visited each school for a week providing daily aural toilet and drops, which usually resulted in a dry ear which either healed spontaneously or was made suitable for surgical repair. The caravan was so successful that the incidence of CSOM was significantly reduced, but as a result the incidence of otitis media with effusion (glue ear) increased and this provided continuing work for the caravan. George obtained his FRACS in 1979. With the increasing workload a second ENT surgeon was appointed to Northland in 1983 (Jeremy Gathercole).
Audiologists did not come to Northland till the 1970's and prior to that George held weekly clinics at the NZ League for the Hard of Hearing. George continued to be involved with the Northland branch of the Hearing Association until after he retired. He was President for many years and was later made Patron. In the 1970's and early 1980's George worked with aid programmes to the Pacific Islands spending time in the Solomon Islands, Niue and the Cook Islands. On these visits he was accompanied by Trish, who provided audiometry and other support.
Alongside his professional commitments George was an energetic Rotarian. He and Trish ran a farm with Charolais cattle for many years. As retirement neared they moved to Headland Farm Park. George became heavily involved in conservation projects, specifically weed eradication from native bush, and pest control, and he received several civic awards for this work. Following George's retirement from clinical practice in 1990 he and Trish enjoyed some great camper-vans trips in the USA and Australia, travelling for over 2 years in total.
George is survived by his wife Trish and 3 children, Craig (landscaper and garden centre owner), Andrew (lawyer) and Oriole (audiologist) and five grandchildren.
This obituary is based upon one prepared for The New Zealand Society for Otolaryngology by Jerry Gathercole FRACS, with the further assistance of Trish, Oriole and other members of the Wilson family.