John Stuart Simpson
October 1942 - October 2017
William Shakespeare, in his play 'As You Like It' could well have been describing John Simpson as he wrote-
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts".
- because John did play many parts during his life - and in each role he excelled. There was John the 'sportsman' who defeated the English Schoolboys Boxing Champion, played cricket for the English Schoolboys' team, and senior rugby for St. Mary's Hospital in London. There was John the 'Renaissance man' who graduated from the University of Cambridge with a BA Hons and retained an active interest in the Classics throughout his life, eventually returning to the study of Latin during his retirement. There was John 'the actor' who at Pinewood studios in London played the part of a handsome escort in the film 'It happened to Me', a guard at Fort Knox in 'Goldfinger', and an extra in 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines', to mention but a few. Of course there was John 'the academic surgeon', author of numerous publications and holder of Visiting Professorships in four different universities. And finally, John 'the servant' to the highest standards of patient care and the College.
John more than fulfilled the description of the early nineteenth-century surgeon - 'A good Fellow, scholar, a gentleman as well as a dignified diagnostician and a sturdy sawbones'. After spending his formative years in England and completing surgical training, in 1977 John moved to Wellington to take up a position as Senior Lecturer in Surgery. He quickly completed his FRACS and forged a career committed to the College and the development of surgery, and in particular breast surgery. Characterised by great energy, unshakeable integrity and an advocacy for the highest standards of professionalism in surgery with complete commitment to patient care, John was a source of wise counsel to many colleagues and organisations. He will be remembered as an innovator, a clear thinker, a first class surgeon and a man of great mana and dignity.
John Simpson was born in Darlington, England, the only child of Marjorie Violet and John Edmund Simpson, an Anglican minister. He attended the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, 1953-61, before progressing to Jesus College, Cambridge University 1961-64, where he completed a BA (Hons). He gained entry to St. Mary's Hospital Medical School 1964-67, and was awarded a surgical scholarship to the University of Rochester in 1966. John completed his MA in 1968. John worked as a house surgeon in St. Mary's Hospital London and then King Edward VII Hospital, Durban, South Africa. On returning to St. Mary's Hospital he was Assistant Lecturer in Anatomy and then held SHO positions at St. Mary's, Hillington and Hammersmith Hospitals. During 1971-73 he was registrar in general and thoracic surgery in Hammersmith and West Middlesex Hospitals; and then Cancer Research Campaign Research Fellow at King's College Hospital in London, remaining there as Senior Registrar and Lecturer in Surgery 1975-77. He became FRCS in 1971.
John married Judith (medical practitioner) and they had three daughters Rachel, Nicola and Katherine before they separated. In 1989 he met Corrianne (a social worker) and they married in 1995 - John developing a close relationship with Corrianne's two sons, David and Christopher.
John was appointed Senior Lecturer in Surgery at the Wellington Clinical School of Medicine and General Surgeon at Wellington Hospital in 1977 retaining those roles until 1986. He gained his FRACS in 1977. He served as Post-graduate Dean of the School of Medicine 1986-87. In 1986 John commenced part time in private and part-time as General and Breast Surgeon at the Hutt Hospital remaining in that role until 1998.
John held many positions of responsibility throughout his career. On obtaining his FRACS John became a very committed Fellow of the College. He commenced as Assistant Secretary of the New Zealand Committee (now the National Board) in 1978, was Secretary of the Wellington and Central Region Surgical Education Committees 1978-84 and Surgical Supervisor at Hutt Hospital 1986-1998. He was elected to the New Zealand Committee in 1988 and served as Deputy Chair and Chair prior to completing his term in 1996. John was Registrar to the Court of Examiners 1979-82 and was elected to the Court in 1988. Following his retirement as an active examiner, John was appointed Deputy Chair of the Court 1997-2000.
Highly regarded professionally, John was regularly called upon as a member (or more often chair) of College-appointed committees, tasked with undertaking a review of hospital surgical services or the appraisal of individual surgeons where difficulties were being experienced. In 1999 after ceasing operative practice (but continuing to be very active as a consultant) he spent a two-year term as Professional Standards Co-coordinator for the Medical Council of New Zealand. During that time he was also appointed as the first Executive Director for Surgical Affairs for the College in New Zealand.
Throughout his career John demonstrated a strong commitment to continuing education, research and the maintenance of standards. He served as a member of the Executive and Chair of the Section for Endocrine Surgery and the Section for Breast Surgery. He chaired the NZ Group in the development of national guidelines for Breast Surgery 1995-98 and was an active member of the Breast Surgery Audit from its inception in 1996. As its founding President, John was active in the New Zealand Association of General Surgeons and was elected to life membership. John was an active member of the NZ Society for Oncology and, twenty years after serving terms as Secretary and President, was elected to life membership. He was an active member of the Cancer Society of NZ serving on the National Council and chairing the Wellington Division from 1980-90. He convened the Sections of Breast and Endocrine Surgery programmes for the 1990 GSM and the New Zealand ASM in 1996. John contributed to the writing of three book chapters and approximately 70 journal articles and held five visiting lectureships, and his authorship with John Collins of the 'Guidelines to Breast Cancer Treatment in New Zealand' represented a very significant contribution.
In recognition of his services, John was awarded the RACS medal in 1998 and in 2012 became a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
John remained a keen participant and follower of sport throughout his life. While his ability as a cricketer was noteworthy, he struggled to master golf which became a passion later in life. He trialled multiple clubs and practised more often - but his game remained erratic. When a colleague gently pointed out that the golf bag limit for clubs was 14 not 22, John responded "I'm trialling them!" Despite the frustrations of imperfection he persisted and it provided a great escape, especially during the latter years when he experienced increasing difficulty in continuing physical activities. When it came to rugby it became very clear that John was a Kiwi!
John experienced significant health challenges during the final two decades of his life. He required numerous orthopaedic procedures, most of which resulted in significant complications and prolonged periods of convalescence and markedly restricted activity. The early onset of Parkinson's Disease prompted his retirement from operative practice at the age of 57 and this illness became progressively more restricting in his final years, ultimately resulting in the need for long term care at Te Hopai. Through all of this John was remarkably uncomplaining, meeting each challenge with strength and courage, aided greatly by the increasing support of Corrianne, who demonstrated unconditional love and great patience during his progressive incapacity.
John is greatly missed by his wife, Corrianne, daughters Rachel, Nicola, Katherine, stepsons David and Christopher and 11 grandchildren.
Pat Alley FRACS, John Collins FRACS and Corrianne Simpson contributed greatly to the preparation of this obituary.