John Herbert Heslop CBE, FRCS, FRACS
21 March 1925 - 21 June 2014
John Heslop was born in Dunedin on March 21, 1925, the only child of James, an Irish immigrant, and Muriel. James died in his 50s and Muriel lived with John's family and played an important role in caring for her two grand-daughters as their parents developed increasingly busy professional careers. She also cultivated John's love for food and an affection for Ireland. John attended St Clair Primary School and subsequently Kings High School, where he was senior athletics champion in 1942. He was a keen and capable cricketer, being twice selected in 1942-43 for the Otago Brabin Shield team as a seam bowler and useful lower order batsman.
John gained entry into the Otago Medical School in 1944, completing his MB ChB in 1949. While at medical school he met his future wife, Aucklander Barbara Cubit, who was a year ahead of him. They completed their house surgeon years in Dunedin and in 1952 John embarked on his surgical career when he became a resident surgical officer. In 1953, following their marriage, John and Barbara moved to England where John commenced at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Ealing, London as a resident surgical officer, while Barbara followed a career in pathology. The following year John successfully completed the FRCS (England) examination and then shifted to the Middlesex Hospital, London where during 1956 he was the Leverhulme Research Fellow. In 1957 John and Barbara, with baby daughter Helen, returned to Dunedin where John took up the position of senior registrar and surgical tutor.
John's career developed quickly as he completed a Master of Surgery and became a fellow of the RACS in 1958. In 1959 John made headlines when he was awarded the coveted Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland Moynihan prize for surgical research on skin tumours. John returned to London to receive the award (seldom awarded to those outside the United Kingdom) and remained there for three months continuing his research. John took charge of the burns unit at Wakari Hospital in 1960 and was appointed senior lecturer in surgery at Otago University in1962. In 1978 John became Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery and also, the same year, was appointed Associate Dean of postgraduate studies at the Medical School.
John developed a specific interest in the care of burns patients and surgery for obesity and had an active private practice in Dunedin. He was a College Councillor from 1975-1987 and was also a long term member of the Part One Board and an examiner in general surgery. In February 1994 John ceased surgical practice, ending 36 years as a public hospital surgeon at Dunedin Hospital and 35 years as a private surgeon at Mercy Hospital.
Soon after their return to Dunedin John and Barbara, together with Associate Professor John Borrie, developed an intensive six week pre-exam course covering the essentials of anatomy, physiology and pathology in a well-structured programme of tutorials for the Part 1 Examination. The Dunedin Basic Medical Sciences Course became highly regarded as a pre-requisite for surgical trainees throughout New Zealand and Australia. In recognition of this very significant contribution to surgical education over approximately 25 years, John and Barbara were named joint recipients of the Sir Louis Barnett Medal in 1990. Their contribution to surgical training was further recognised in 2004 through the establishment of the Heslop Medal which is awarded to recognise and reward outstanding contributions to Basic Surgical Training.
John played a prominent role in the Cancer Society of New Zealand at both divisional and national level including terms as Divisional Chairman and National President. His considerable insight and drive was instrumental in the Society becoming the leading provider of cancer services outside the District Health Boards and also the creation of the Cancer Society of New Zealand Research Foundation, a significant funder of medical research in New Zealand.
Given his sporting prowess, and in particular his love of cricket, it was not surprising John would take a keen interest in the treatment of sports injuries. This led him in 1963, along with Dr Norrie Jefferson (the first President), Dr Ted Nye, and Dr John Kilpatrick, all of Dunedin, to found Sports Medicine New Zealand, as a means of improving the management of sports injuries throughout New Zealand. His long-term contribution was recognised in 1996 when he was made a life member.
Cricket was John's first and greatest sporting love and he contributed greatly to this game. He was a better than average player being an Otago Brabin Shield representative in 1942-43 and playing senior cricket with the Carisbrook and University Clubs when only a teenager. Returning from England in 1957, he continued to play senior cricket until 1960, being an in-swing bowler and a useful lower order batsmen, and reaching Otago B honours. One of his favourite stories was bowling to New Zealand's famous batsmen Bert Sutcliffe in a senior match in Dunedin. "It took me 10 years to get Bert out, but I got him in the end, LBW. He was plumb," he recounted with a chuckle. However, John's greatest impact on cricket came not as a player but as administrator, starting with his appointment as the convener of selectors for the Otago Plunket Shield team in 1960, where perhaps his greatest claim to fame was in selecting future batting great Glen Turner, while he was still at school, for his first class cricket debut. He served the Otago Cricket Association as a selector 1960-66, as president 1966-68 and was made a life member in 1986.
In the late 1960s John was appointed to the New Zealand Cricket Board of Control, where he was a member of the disciplinary and umpires appointments committees and convener of the pitches subcommittee. In 1975 he was given his first prime administrative role as manager of the New Zealand team to contest the first one-day World Cup, held in England. The team, captained by Turner, reached the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by the West Indies, which went on to win the final. He served as New Zealand team manager 10 years later, this time for a four test tour of the West Indies. John was a member of the New Zealand Cricket Council for 12 years, being president 1987-89 and he was subsequently made a life member. Otago Cricket Chief Executive, Ross Dykes, said Mr Heslop's service to cricket was indefatigable and described him as an imposing character in all ways and a great friend of cricket.
Arguably John's most significant honour was received in December 1996 when he has awarded the CBE in the New Year's Honours for services to medicine, sport and community. This completed a "rare double", because his wife Barbara had also been made a CBE five years earlier. The couple had also shared similar recognition in (at different times) being made life members of the Cancer Society. Despite their individually brilliant careers, it was hard not to regard the Heslop's as anything other than a "team".
John Heslop will be remembered as an amiable sports loving general surgeon who made a significant contribution to surgery in New Zealand and Australia. John's life-long love of good food, coupled with his sense of humour, and an ability to relate to people of all walks of life was reflected in his membership of the Dunedin Tripe and Onions club. So, it was fitting a celebration of his life in the "Long Room" at Logan Park, home of cricket in Dunedin, should be attended by an eclectic selection of surgeons, cricketers, including Glen Turner and Billy Ibadulla, and friends from many other walks of life, to enjoy a carefully chosen menu reflecting John's favourite food. The Irish connection was represented by his cousin Richard Fegan, while his many Irish relatives had a simultaneous "John Heslop" breakfast of porridge with whiskey, cream and brown sugar in Rathfriland, Northern Ireland.
John is survived by his daughters Helen (Dan L Duncan Chair, Professor Paediatrics and Medicine and Director Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Texas) and Hilary (Food product developer, Melbourne), Barbara having predeceased him in 2013.
Following their deaths The Barbara and John Heslop Memorial Fund has been established with initial contributions from Helen and Hilary Heslop and the Dunedin Basic Science Course to support an endowment of $300,000 to fund research in the disciplines of pathology or immunology within the Otago Medical School.
This obituary is based upon that by Dave Cannan prepared for The Otago Daily Times with the additional assistance of Helen and Hilary Heslop.