Lives of the fellows

Austin Eric Doyle

b.2 August 1923 d.22 Feb 1993
AO(1986) MB BS Lond(1946) MD MRCP(1950) FRACP(1962) FRCP(1969)

Austin Doyle was the son of Austin Roland Doyle, a medical practitioner in Yorkshire, and his wife Ruby Elizabeth née Rumbold. He later became a medical administrator in the original health service. Austin was educated at Exeter School and entered Guy's Hospital medical school, London University, to study medicine. After graduation, he spent two years in the RNVR as a surgeon lieutenant. During 1949 and 1950 he served as house physician, first at St James' Hospital, Leeds, and then at Harrogate General Hospital.

He later spent a short period at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith, and while there obtained his MD and was awarded a research fellowship from the Medical Research Council to work in New Zealand at the Wellcome Institute in Dunedin, with Sir Horace Smirk (q.v.). Horace Smirk was one of the pioneers in hypertension and had been, against much opposition, lowering the blood pressure in hypertensive patients with the newly developed ganglion blocking agents. Austin was greatly influenced by Horace Smirk and his own research experience in Dunedin, and the study of high blood pressure remained his consuming research interest for the rest of his life. He became one of the founders and doyens of hypertension research and management, with an international reputation.

After almost three years in New Zealand, Austin returned to the Hammersmith to work with Sir John McMichael (q.v.) but in 1957 his restless and rebellious nature sent him once more to the antipodes. He accepted an appointment in the newly formed academic department of medicine at the University of Melbourne. In 1966 he was appointed foundation professor and chairman of the department of medicine at the recently established University of Melbourne clinical school, at the Austin Hospital and Repatriation General Hospital in Heildelberg, a suburb of Melbourne. He remained in this post for the next 25 years, until he retired in 1985.

Over the 25 years, he built a large, productive department that became a world renowned centre for excellence in hypertension research and management. Austin Doyle was a great builder - of people, departments and hospitals. He was an astute judge both of people and talent; intolerant of the superficial and showy and particularly against pomposity and bureaucracy.

Doyle established the tradition that Australian departments of medicine should not simply be teaching units, nor simply for clinical duties, but centres of excellence in basic and clinical research. He attracted to the department many outstanding young investigators, 10 of whom went on to become professors or heads of departments of medicine, physiology and pharmacology, in Australia and overseas. A fine testament to Austin Doyle's unerring abilities to recognize, nurture and promote, excellence in young people.

He was equally successful in establishing and developing other institutions and associations. He was the foundation president of the Australasian Society of Nephrology in 1968; a councillor of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians 1980-84; president of the Australian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists 1982; foundation chairman of the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia 1980-82 and president of the International Society of Hypertension 1982-84. In 1986 he was awarded the Order of Australia for his services to medical education and research.

After his retirement from the chair of medicine at the Austin Hospital, he remained active and was appointed dean of medical graduate studies at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital in 1985 and senior physician at St Vincent’s Hospital in 1987. He held both these positions when he died suddenly at Auckland Airport. He was active until the end, designing new clinical trials and collaborating with young investigators on basic mechanisms in hypertension.

His life had spanned the whole era of drug development in hypertension and he had a protean knowledge of the subject. He was asked to speak at many national and international meetings and his quick mind, sharp criticisms and witty comments enlivened many a meeting. He was even more lively outside meetings than in them and anecdotes about Doyle, and his often humorous if somewhat caustic remarks, are legendary.

In his younger years he had been a successful sportsman, playing hockey for his county. He later took up golf and was a formidable opponent on the course. His other passions were music and ballet, he was a very liberal thinker and supporter of the underdog and this extended to his own right to continue to smoke and drink. In 1948 he married Jill Simpson, a Yorkshire lass and daughter of a wool merchant, and they had three sons and a daughter. Jill provided Austin with a firm and safe base, particularly necessary for someone who had such a tumultuous, challenging and combative professional and personal life. Austin Doyle’s contributions to the development of Australian medicine and international hypertension research will remain as a memorial for his own life.

C Johnston

[Brit.med.J..1993,306,1683; The Lancet, 1993,341,750-51]

(Volume IX, page 132)

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