John McIlwaine, FRCS, FRACS
25 January 1934 - 24 November 2013
General and Paediatric Surgeon
John McIlwaine was a very capable general and paediatric surgeon, of sharp intellect, with a keen sense of humour and liked by all who met him. He died 24 November 2013
John was born in Wellington on 25 January 1934 to John Erskine McIlwaine (a veterinary surgeon) and Celia Ann Coombe. His family nickname was 'B', reflecting his fascination with a bee early in his childhood. He attended Scots College in Wellington, commencing as a new entrant in 1939 and remaining there until 1951. John was scholastically very able and was Junior Dux (the first ever awarded this accolade at the school), Pipe Band Major, Head Day Prefect and Dux in his final year at College. He also played for the first XI cricket team and the first XV rugby team.
John gained entry to the Otago Medical School in Dunedin, staying at the then male only Knox College (a residential Presbyterian university hostel). Knox was renowned for the camaraderie it encouraged with tales of water bombing from the top of the grand staircase (five stories high), abseiling the outer tower and 'curly kale', a staple vegetable dished up regularly. Returning to Knox at the time of his medical class reunion 50 years later, John was delighted to find his name remained carved into the wood under the mantle-piece of the room he had occupied in the tower. During term holidays John returned to Wellington securing vacation employment in the freezing works, wool scouring mills or tanning sheds. In his final year at medical school John married Mary (a school dental nurse) he had met and first admired while still at school.
Graduating from medical school in 1957, John and Mary returned to Wellington. John worked as a house surgeon in Wellington Hospital 1958-59 and then as Surgical Registrar in 1960 followed by eight months general practice in Upper Hutt in 1961. Deciding that surgery was his path, John and the family moved to London where he worked as a surgical registrar in the Kingston-on-Thames Hospital, senior registrar at North Middlesex and St Mary's Hospitals and Resident Surgeon at Mayday and Croydon General Hospitals, gaining his FRCS (England) in 1964. Amongst other notable figures he treated, he attended the Queen Mother when she had a fish bone stuck in her throat.
On returning to New Zealand in 1966, John commenced as Senior Out-Patients Admitting Officer at Wellington Hospital (1966-1967) and was subsequently employed as full-time tutor-specialist and later Resident Senior Surgeon. He was awarded FRACS in 1968. John was the true general surgeon who progressively specialised in paediatric surgery, having a background of colorectal and renal transplant surgery (assisting Donald Urquhart-Hay with the first renal transplant in Wellington), and he was appointed visiting General and Paediatric Surgeon at Wellington Hospital in 1970. He began consulting in part-time private practice in Kelvin Chambers with the late Evan Raine, later moving to AMP Chambers, and he operated at Bowen and Wakefield Hospitals.
John assisted in the development and provision of teaching programmes in both undergraduate and post graduate surgery and was a popular teacher with both medical students and surgical trainees. Not loquacious in discussion, his comments were always well considered and appropriate and in formal presentations he was concise and precise. Invariably punctual he expected no less from others. He was a good clinician, technically excellent and quick - qualities which endeared him to his anaesthetic colleagues. John served on what was then known as the New Zealand Committee of the College and was also a College examiner in general surgery. He served as Chairman on the Wellington Surgical Staff Committee and contributed to planning committees for the development of ICU, operating theatres and theatre service centre at Wellington Hospital.
John retired in 1999 and moved with Mary to 'Clarendon', a large colonial homestead in Carterton, Wairarapa. The house was built c.1880 and John and Mary developed magnificent landscaped gardens and had numerous sheds built. John was the ultimate 'sheddy'. He was meticulous and inventive and, with a love of classic cars, fully restored a Mark 2 Jaguar amongst others. He was also an avid reader and enjoyed classical music. A bee-keeper, he was active in the local bee club and many a nice pot of honey was harvested.
John endured increasing disability in the last three years of his life with considerable strength, patience and dignity. He is survived by his adored wife, Mary, three adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Obituary provided by Chrissy Murcott (daughter) and other family members; with the assistance of Peter Meech FRACS.