Lives of the fellows

John Alexander Kilpatrick

b.22 February 1920 d.24 May 1987
MB ChB NZ(1942) MD(1946) MRACP(1947) MRCP(1948) FRACP(1959) FRCP(1969)

Apart from four years’ absence, gaining postgraduate experience in Auckland and the United Kingdom, John Kilpatrick - called ‘Jack’ by most of his colleagues - lived in the city of Dunedin in the Otago province of New Zealand, where he was born and educated, where he practised as a leading physician of his time, and where he died.

His early upbringing was in modest circumstances. His father, also John Kilpatrick, was a prison superintendent and his mother Iris, née Ramsay, was the daughter of a contractor. Alexander Ramsay. Jack’s wife, Effie Forsyth McKnight, came from a farming family in Southland.

They were married in 1943, a year after Jack qualified in medicine. Educated initially at Otago Boy’s High School, he completed his medical course at the University of Otago, graduating in 1942.

Jack’s long and distinguished association with the Otago Medical School and the Dunedin Hospital, as well as with the people of Otago and Southland, began in 1943 and was to continue throughout his practising life. It was the year in which he was quickly spotted by the professor of medicine, Frederick Horace Smirk, later Sir Horace, who had begun to revitalize the Dunedin scene since his arrival in 1939. Jack Kilpatrick was one of the earliest recruits into Smirk’s team of young turks. He was appointed as an assistant junior physician, becoming a research fellow from 1944-46. At the end of his baptism into clinical research he gained his doctorate. His academic career was then interrupted temporarily when he contracted tuberculosis. On recovery he determined to work as a ‘tuberculosis officer’, which he did for a short period in 1947 at the Green Lane Hospital, Auckland, before coming to the United Kingdom.

In 1948, no doubt on Horace Smirk’s strong recommendation, he was appointed house physician at the Hammersmith Hospital, under John McMichael, later Sir John. This was followed by two years as a lecturer in medicine at the University of Sheffield, under Stuart-Harris, later Sir Charles. Despite this early postgraduate experience in cardiopulmonary disorders, he became strongly influenced by a fellow New Zealander, Russell Fraser, who eventually steered Jack towards endocrinology, in particular to the clinical problems of the thyroid and pancreas.

In 1951 he returned to his home town, Dunedin, and rejoined Smirk’s then flourishing department of medicine as senior assistant physician and lecturer in medicine. For the next five years he demonstrated his abilities both as a stimulating teacher and a most able physician, one who combined scientific vigour with a caring approach to his patients. Although further academic advancement was one option, he chose to enter part-time consultant practice in 1956, but retained his hospital appointment as a senior physician and his university academic status. His practice became increasingly orientated, though not entirely, to endocrinology, and in particular to the field of diabetes. The development of his diabetic clinic was a major commitment and his approach, in the 1960s, was innovative at that time: using the multidisciplinary model incorporating a podiatrist, dietitian, nurse educator, and a consultant ophthalmologist who was jointly involved in a model diabetic retinopathy screening programme. As a researcher Jack had a degree of insight and a capacity for originality which enabled him to make a significant contribution as a clinical collaborator with endocrine and autoimmunity research groups in the Otago School.

Jack was to become a leader in the field of diabetes in New Zealand, and served as chairman of the medical advisory panel of the New Zealand Diabetic Association, and as a delegate on the executive of the International Diabetes Federation. He was a life member of the Society for the Study of Diabetes and the Society of Endocrinology, being a founder member of the latter in 1963.

Throughout his working life Jack remained first and foremost a good physician, except that he could not adapt to the non-smoking model. He was certainly not a ponderous physician, and his ability to make prompt and clear decisions was especially appreciated by his surgical colleagues who sought his medical advice on a wide range of patients’ problems. The discovery of a rare and unusual ‘case’ excited him, but never to the point of exploiting or diminishing his concern for the patient.

Jack Kilpatrick played his part in several roles for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians: as censor, as chairman for the New Zealand grants advisory committee, and then as vice-president of the College from 1976-78. He served on many other national committees, such as the New Zealand Board of Health committee on drug dependency and abuse.

Despite his involvement in a busy practice, Jack maintained his university attachment throughout his life and when, in 1977, the University of Otago first established ‘clinical readers’ in recognition of outstanding contributions to teaching, he was among the first to be so recognized. On his retirement in 1985 the medical faculty felt his loss keenly and the dean referred to his humanity, his orginality of mind, and his diligence in pursuing new insights and more effective care for his patients. It was minuted in a faculty valedictory resolution that: ‘...he was one of those valuable colleagues who believed in and practised the best type of personalised academic medicine in both his private practice and the public hospital system... The large number of patients he saw from throughout Otago and Southland were treated in an interested, professional manner with financial reward relegated to a low level of priority.’

To colleagues and patients alike, Jack’s friendliness, optimism and good humour dominated relationships. He was always full of ideas, always willing to speak up at meetings, with plenty of wit, and always fully of energy until his obstructive pulmonary condition sadly caught up with him in later years.

Outside medicine, Jack had several interests which kept him active whenever he could find the time to indulge them; from trout fishing and growing orchids to supporting amateur swimming and surf lifesaving clubs. He was also an active member of the Presbyterian Church.

He and his wife Effie offered generous hospitality to a host of visitors from abroad as well as to their friends, colleagues and students. They were pleased when one of their two sons followed his father’s footsteps into medicine.

JD Hunter

[Otago Daily Times, 26 May 1987; NZ med.J., 12 Aug 1987,509]

(Volume VIII, page 259)

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