Lives of the fellows

John Ross Duff Eaton

b.20 September 1915 d.4 September 1988
MB ChB Otago(1941) MRCP(1948) FRACP(1978) FRCP(1981)

John Eaton was born in Calcutta, India, in 1915, the son of George Herbert Eaton, an engineer. At the age of 8, John returned with his parents to the United Kingdom and following early education in London went on to Fettes College, Edinburgh. He completed his basic education with a year at Christ’s College, Christchurch, New Zealand, when his parents took up residence in Hawkes Bay.

In 1933 he began his medical education at Otago medical school and spent his final year before graduation in Auckland, where he met and became engaged to Dorothy Bruce Bell, the girl who was to become his wife. In 1941 he held a house appointment at Palmerston North Hospital but with the advent of war he joined the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force as a medical officer and saw service in North Africa and Italy for over four years.

He married within a few weeks of his return to New Zealand in 1946; there followed more than 40 years of happy married life and the birth of three children. There was never a word of complaint about the long time disability of his wife Dorothy, and her misfortune led to John’s great aptitude for cooking and general household management.

He took up his house appointment at Palmerston North Hospital again, and later spent some time in London, where he obtained his membership of the College in 1948. He then returned to New Zealand to set up practice in Hamilton as the first consultant physician in private practice at a time when the local hospital was closed. When the hospital reopened, some two years later, John was appointed to the staff as a part-time consultant physician and retained this position for some 30 or more years, until retirement age.

After retirement he continued to assist in a locum capacity at the Waikato Hospital on an intermittent basis. Sadly, in 1985 he developed a malignant melanoma in the calf and, despite several operations culminating in lower limb amputation, his general condition deteriorated with widespread metastatic disease. He bore these sufferings with extraordinary fortitude and cheerfulness; his one concern being that his family should not suffer on account of his illness, which served to emphasize his unselfishness.

As a physician he was quiet and modest, self-effacing and retiring in character. In an obituary, one of his colleagues wrote that John’s uprightness of body posture was the mirror of his mind, and that he had never heard him say a derogatory word about any colleague or patient. John Eaton never aspired to the heights of academia, nor to the esoteric depth of narrow specialization, but was content to remain a general physician with a special interest in heart troubles - before cardiology became the complex study it now is.

A staunch adherent and supporter of the Anglican Church, his firm Christian faith remained with him to the end.

He read extensively, in fields other than medicine, and did not hesitate to explore new disciplines. His elder daughter’s marriage and residence in Germany led to him studying German in his late sixties. He was very keen and proficient at squash and was a member of the local squash club for some 30 years. Perhaps he found his major enjoyment on the ski grounds of Mount Ruapehu and his ashes were scattered there, where he had passed many happy hours of his life.

D J Gudex

(Volume IX, page 146)

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