Lives of the fellows

John Hallward Gear

b.7 May 1908 d.20 December 1974
BSc Wits(1928) MB ChB(1932) DTM&H(1938) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1969)

John H. Gear was the third son of Mr. and Mrs. John Gear of Germiston, South Africa and was one of three medically qualified brothers. His father, a businessman in Germiston and his mother both came to South Africa from the Shetland Islands.

After attending the primary and high schools in Germiston, he completed his schooling at St. John’s College, Johannesburg. He received his medical training at the medical school of the University of the Witwatersrand, taking BSc Hons (first class) in 1928 and graduating MB ChB in 1932. He was awarded the Bronze Medal of the South African Medical Association for the most distinguished graduate of the year. After serving as a resident medical officer in the Johannesburg Hospital, he was appointed in 1934 as the first fulltime lecturer in medicine in the Department of Medicine of the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1938 he was promoted to a senior lectureship, and in 1957 he became an associate professor. In 1966 he was appointed as Principal Physician in the department. Except for the war years he spent his life as a member of staff of the Department of Medicine.

After enlisting for fulltime military service in 1940 he served as Second in Command of a Field Ambulance of the SA Medical Corps on the Kenya-Abyssinia front. Unfortunately he developed a severe illness and, after several weeks in hospital in Nairobi, he was posted back to South Africa. There, with the rank of Colonel, he was appointed as President of the Medical Board of the South African Air Force at Voortrekkerhoogte, Pretoria. He served in this post for several months, thereafter returning to the Middle East as consultant physician to the South African Military Hospital in Cairo. At the end of the war he returned to his post in the Department of Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand.

He was awarded a Nuffield Fellowship during the tenure of which he spent several months in postgraduate study in London and Edinburgh. Upon his return to the Johannesburg General Hospital, he took a prominent part in the restructuring of the Department of Medicine and was particularly concerned with the development of its special facilities including the Cardiac Clinic, the Respiratory Diseases Clinic and the Haematology Clinic. In the years before and during the war he played a leading role in the establishment and development of the Witwatersrand Blood Transfusion Service and was the first Chairman of its controlling committee. This service later developed into the South African Blood Transfusion Service, a model of its kind.

John Gear was a leader in the affairs of the Faculty of Medicine and served as chairman of several of its committees for many years including the Curriculum Committee. He was President of the University of the Witwatersrand Medical Graduate Association. He took a great interest in the welfare of medical students and of his colleagues and was personal physician to many of them. He was consulting physician to the Nurses Home of the Johannesburg General Hospital, to the Queen Victoria Hospital, and to the Miners’ Medical Bureau. He also continued to serve for many years as consultant physician to the South African Air Force and to South African Airways.

He was an outstanding physician and teacher. Perhaps his greatest personal quality was his warmth of personality, his kindness and his willingness to help others in times of illness and difficulty.

John Gear, in his all too few spare hours, exercised great skill in carpentry, built his own yacht, and became an expert yachtsman, a hobby to which he became devoted. His knowledge of ornithology was profound, and he utilized it to the full on visits to South African Game Reserves.

Perhaps, however, it is more true than anything else of Jock (as he was affectionately known to all) that his first interest was people. Whether as patients, students or friends of any race, colour, or belief, Jock Gear took a personal and deep interest in that person and devoted his time, his knowledge, and his boundless energy to the service of mankind.

As a medical student-teacher in the Department of Anatomy, he wrote several articles on prehistoric man and on the anthropological features of man in Africa, and later as a physician, on many subjects but particularly on the value and hazards of blood transfusion and on aviation medicine, in both of which he was a pioneer.

He retired from his appointment as professor in the Department of Medicine in 1973.

In 1941, he married Mary Hunter, daughter of a mining engineer and metallurgist, well known in his field in South Africa. They had one daughter, who married the well known marathon runner John Meckler. Jock’s elder brother, J.H.S. Gear, is also a Fellow (honoris causa) of the Royal College of Physicians, and was Director of the South African Institute for Medical Research. The eldest of the three brothers, H.S. Gear, was a member of the Department of State Health in South Africa, a Deputy Director of the World Health Organization, Secretary General of the World Medical Association and finally was the first incumbent of the Chair in the History of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

JF Murray

(Volume VI, page 192)

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