Graeme Douglas Campbell FRCSEng FRACS
General and paediatric surgeon
21 April 1931 – 27 July 2019

Graeme Campbell was born in Eltham, Taranaki, the youngest of five children of dairy farmer Jack Campbell and schoolteacher, Winifred May Heather.  Entering a sports-mad family (particularly rugby, tennis and swimming), he grew up on the family farm. After attending Eltham Primary School, Graeme was a boarder at Nelson College 1944–48. He excelled academically, obtaining scholarship listing in his final year, and with the encouragement of his parents decided to follow a medical career.  At school he was an enthusiastic rugby player and boxer.

Graeme travelled to Dunedin, completed Medical Intermediate in 1949 and took up residence at Selwyn College (1950-53) where he was a keen rugby player and boxer until a skull fracture during an Easter Tournament boxing match ended both pursuits (and led to Graeme advocating against boxing as a sport in his later career as a sports medicine specialist). He graduated MBChB in 1955 and was a house surgeon and registrar at Dunedin Public Hospital for the next three years, and there he met Leigh Atchison, a radiographer.  They married in 1959 and during this year Graeme worked for a period in Taranaki Base Hospital and completed a GP locum in Marton.

In 1960 Graeme and Leigh travelled to England where Graeme commenced surgical training. Time was spent working in hospitals in South London and Exeter. Importantly for his future career, he secured work at The Children’s Hospital, Sheffield, under an experimental pioneer of paediatric surgery, Robert Zachary. At that time bold new techniques were being developed for congenital conditions like spina bifida. Graeme became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1963. During this period the family expanded with the birth of Douglas in 1961 and Hugh in 1964.

In early 1965 Graeme, Leigh and their two children returned to New Zealand for Graeme to take up a part-time position at Waikato Hospital as a general surgeon with paediatric training.  He obtained his FRACS in 1967 and the family was completed the same year with the birth of Phillipa.  Graeme believed that children’s health needs were different from adults and that they needed to have their own health services. He was instrumental in the development of paediatric surgery as a separate speciality at Waikato Hospital, progressively building a team with paediatric surgery training and skills.  Anaesthetist John Moody, a long-term colleague and team member, described Graeme as a commanding and demanding figure in the operating theatre, able to improvise on-the-fly solutions to challenging surgical problems.  His culminating career achievement was the separation of conjoint twins at Waikato Hospital in 1987 (along with John Moody, Greg Spark and Stuart Brown).  In private practice Graeme had consulting rooms at the family home and operated at Braemar Hospital.

With a love of sport, he volunteered to act as team doctor for the Waikato rugby team in the late1960s (his children recall many days being taken to Rugby Park to sit alongside their father and the St Johns Ambulance crew).  At that time there was interaction between enthusiasts in the United Kingdom and New Zealand in the emerging field of sports medicine and, with Noel Roydhouse, Matt Marshall, Dave Gerrard and Chris Milne, he assisted in the formation of the New Zealand Federation of Sports Medicine in 1963. He was President 1977-1981, awarded Fellowship in 1990 and Life Membership in 1996. Graeme was appointed team doctor to the 1974 NZ Commonwealth Games team in Christchurch, the 1976 NZ Olympic Games team in Montreal, and the 1980 NZ Olympic Games team in Moscow.  In this role a particularly memorable episode was helping get Dick Quax to the starting line for the 5000m after he had an IV saline drip to rehydrate from gastroenteritis and his subsequent winning the silver medal. Quax talks of Campbell’s psychological counselling during an interview.  Graeme worked closely with NZ rowing coach Harry Mahon at Karapiro through the 1970s and 80s and was appointed Chief Medical Officer of the 1978 World Rowing Championships held at Karapiro.

Graeme retired from his public and private practice in 1998 and for the next two years worked at the Church Missionary Society Hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan.  A devout Anglican, he and Leigh undertook to reopen a surgical facility at this hospital.  American medical staff had been evacuated after the increasing radicalisation of Peshawar had led to the US State Department deciding to withdraw medical personnel. Graeme was considered to be from a neutral country, which was advantageous, but not a total guarantee of safety. (The attempted assassination of Osama Bin Laden in 1998 with cruise missiles launched on the order of President Clinton triggered riots in Peshawar and the hospital went into total lock-down.)  Graeme found that there was a large population of teenagers with clubfoot in Peshawar and, with an early grounding in ‘bone carpentry’ techniques for this situation from his training in the 1950s and 60s, he set up a specialist clinic for the repair of clubfoot.  This culminated memorably with the arrival (the day before he and wife Leigh were due to depart to return to NZ) of a man carrying his 14 year old son with clubfoot. They had heard from a relative in Peshawar about the ‘miracle-working’ doctor from New Zealand, and over three months had journeyed on foot from northern Afghanistan (over 800 km including two mountain passes) to get to the hospital. Graeme delayed his departure to complete the restorative procedure.

In 2000, retired from practice, Graeme and Leigh moved to Lower Hutt. More time was available to devote to the family and church activities.  With an undiminished love of rugby Graeme was a regular attender at the World Cup tournament each four years.  Leigh died of Parkinson’s Disease in 2017 having been cared for by Graeme for the last 8 years of her life.

Graeme Campbell is survived and greatly missed by his children Douglas (Professor of New Testament, Duke University, USA), Hugh (Professor of Sociology, University of Otago) and Phillipa (Policy Manager at Oranga Tamariki); and six grandchildren.

This obituary was compiled with the assistance of Hugh Campbell and other members of the family.