John Garland Lester FRCS FRACS
15 January 1933 - 4 March 2017
John Lester was born in Christchurch, the eldest child of Stephen Lester (a stock and station agent) and Eleanor West-Watson (secretary to her father, Bishop of Christchurch). He had a younger sister, Elizabeth, and brother, Michael. John commenced school at Fendalton Open Air Primary School and then attended Christs College. At College John excelled at sport, playing rugby for the 1st XV and cricket for the 1st XI - as captain in his final year. He went on to represent Canterbury in the Brabin Cup team.
In 1951 he commenced at Otago University gaining entry to the Otago Medical School the following year. During his time in Dunedin he resided at Selwyn College, his entry into which was no doubt helped by his grandfather being the Anglican Archbishop of New Zealand. John graduated MB ChB in 1956 and the next year worked in Greymouth spending time with the then legendary West Coast surgeon, Steve Barclay. With his appetite for surgery stimulated, John sailed for the United Kingdom working his passage as a cargo ship doctor.
In England John worked at the Royal Free and Marsden Hospitals gaining experience in general surgery. He subsequently obtained a position at the National Orthopaedic Hospital where he obtained training in orthopaedic surgery. His final three years in the UK were spent in Cambridge at Addenbrookes Hospital. He completed his FRCS in 1961. While working at Addenbrookes he met Elizabeth Hewitt, a member of the nursing staff. Her father, impressed that John had obtained a British Fellowship before the age of 30, supported the relationship, despite their sailing for New Zealand the day following their wedding.
On his return to New Zealand in 1964, John was initially employed as a senior orthopaedic registrar at Christchurch Hospital. In 1966 he was appointed to a position as full-time consultant.This subsequently became a part-time appointment and he practised in both the public and private sectors until he retired from his public hospital appointment in 1992. It was while employed in the public hospital that John developed his interest in hand surgery. When he retired from his hospital appointment he pursued full-time private practice. His workload which included surgery, consulting and medico-legal work was intentionally slowly reduced, until he fully retired in 2000.
In 1973 John, with the support of Swiss colleague and friend Prof. Hardy Weber, organised the first hands on AO course to be held in NZ. This began what would become a major change in fracture management in New Zealand. At a time when the antero-lateral approach to the hip for arthroplasty was almost universally used, John promoted the posterior approach and this was progressively more widely adopted. John provided strong support to Alastair Rothwell as he liaised with the plastic surgeons in 1982 in the formation of the Hand Unit. With his increasing interest in hand surgery, John was involved in the formation of the New Zealand Hand Society in 1976, serving on the Executive and as President in the early 1980s. He was responsible for changing its name to The New Zealand Society for Surgery of the Hand. John was also a member of the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association's Executive Committee and served as Secretary of that Association from 1976-80.
John had a kind, considerate and generous nature. He was a conservative surgeon, a congenial colleague who was totally committed to his patients (not infrequently at the cost of some personal discomfort) and cared greatly for those who worked closely with him. With the prompting of Liz, a keen skier, John commenced this sport following his return to New Zealand and distinguished himself by sustaining an ankle fracture soon after commencing employment. In retirement John remained very active, playing golf regularly and well and enjoying gardening. He devoted time to learning silver-smithing and picture framing.
John is survived and greatly missed by his wife Liz, children Ben, Richard, Stephen and Tamara, sister Elizabeth, and brother Michael, and his 10 grandchildren.
This obituary is based on contributions by Paul Armour FRACS, colleagues and Liz Lester and the family.