Patrick Hugh Spencer FRACS
Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgeon
30 August 1931 - 19 April 2019

Patrick Hugh Spencer (known as Hugh) was born in Auckland, the son of Edwin Patrick (Pat) Spencer, a General Practitioner, and Dorothy (Dot) Eleanor Noakes. He had a younger brother John, who became a dentist. He attended Meadowbank Primary School and subsequently King’s College, where he enjoyed sport, including rugby (a member of the 1st XV), tennis, boxing, gymnastics, and shooting. Introduced to sailing through model yachts, he progressed to the real thing, a Z -class, which he sailed regularly at Red Beach where the family had a bach.

Deciding to seek entry into Medical School, Hugh commenced at Auckland University, then transferred to Otago University where he successfully gained entry to medical training. His sixth year was completed in Auckland and marked by marriage to Mary Isobel (known as Marybel) Dye, a schoolteacher, with whom he had grown up at Red Beach. 1958 was a memorable year with the award of his MBChB and the birth of their first child, Jane.  Hugh remained in Auckland as a house surgeon and while completing his final run in ENT at Greenlane Hospital, Pat Eisdell Moore suggested he should consider a career in this work.

In 1961, after completing GP locum work for three months, Hugh began work as an ENT registrar at Greenlane. After the birth of their second child, Peter, the following year, Hugh travelled alone to London to a registrar position at the Royal Ear Nose and Throat Hospital in Gray’s Inn Road in preparation for the Diploma in Laryngology and Otology (DLO) examinations. With Part 1 successfully completed, Hugh went back to New Zealand for a short period before returning to England with Marybel and the children, including their third child, Robert (Bob). Travelling by sea, Hugh worked as the ship’s doctor.  He returned to Gray’s Inn Road and subsequently worked at St James in Balham. After he had successfully completed the final DLO examination the family returned to NZ in 1964 – again by ship.

Hugh initially worked as Tutor Specialist at Greenlane ENT Dept. Over the next two years it became apparent to him that there was unlikely to be a consultant position available in Auckland and so in 1966 he took up a newly created position at Rotorua. This was a part-time consultant role, but with a large workload providing services initially in Rotorua and later extended to clinics in Whakatane and Taupo. Acute cover was shared in part with the general surgeons. Consulting rooms had to be found and established in town and as there was no resident audiologist a student was sent off to Melbourne to complete the necessary training – returning to provide a local service which became increasingly important. The work was rather dominated by the needs of many Māori children with discharging ears - this remaining a major ENT and health issue until the development of the caravan mobile ear clinic, which resulted in a very significant reduction in this work. Hugh Litchfield observed Hugh Spencer to be an earnest, enthusiastic, always pleasant surgeon, who was a good teacher. Exceptionally busy, he served his district very well and established and maintained strong relationships with the larger ENT departments at Waikato and Greenlane Hospitals.

Hugh remained the sole ENT specialist for the region until 1976 when he was joined by Geoffrey Van den Dreisen. Unfortunately, Geoffrey was lost to Australia after just two years and it was 1987 before a further consultant took up residence in Rotorua. Travelling to Taupo regularly for a clinic had some consequences. There was an early and advantageous decision to purchase land and have a family bach built on the shores of Lake Taupo. Less happily was the occasion when, running a little late in making the trip, Hugh lost control of his near new Ford Falcon on a section of icy road. After rolling a couple of times the car came to rest in a ditch, whereupon Hugh extricated himself, thumbed a lift and proceeded to his clinic.

Hugh became a member of the ORL Society on his return to New Zealand and served on its Executive. He played a major role hosting three highly successful international conferences, two in

Rotorua (1981 and 1989) and one in Wairakei (1983). At that time, the Convenor had a major hands-on role, unlike today with professional conference organisers. The last (in Rotorua) with more than 400 delegates was immense by standards of the time. Hugh & Marybel could open any door (or golf course) in Rotorua and were instrumental in the organising of venue, social and sporting components. He became FRACS by election in 1986.

In the late1980s Hugh was issued a diplomatic passport to work in Niue and Rarotonga as part of a New Zealand aid package to the islands. He was grateful to have the opportunity to provide aid work and humbled by the reception he was given by the local communities there.

Hugh and Marybel and family regularly holidayed on the Taupo lakeside. A 19-foot Pelin Day craft became the basis for numerous holidays and fishing expeditions. Hugh fished both lakes successfully and was always in great demand as a host for overseas speakers because he was so good at helping them catch trout. He tended to provide a rather rugged NZ outdoor experience. For many, going fishing with Hugh was the highlight of their NZ visit - drinking water straight from the lake, sleeping on the boat etc.

Hugh retired in 1992 and four years later he and Marybel moved to Auckland so they could spend time with their children and grandchildren. He spent his spare time teaching computer skills to retirees and in his woodworking workshop, turning out fine furniture.

Patrick Hugh Spencer is survived and greatly missed by his wife Marybel, children Jane, Peter and Robert (Bob) and 6 grandchildren.


This obituary is based upon Hugh’s recorded memoirs, with additional assistance from Ron Goodey FRACS, Hugh Litchfield FRCS and members of the Spencer family.