b.16 February 1902 d.7 November 1989
CBE 1964 MB ChB NZ(1924) MRCP(1926) FRACP(1938) FRCP(1954)
John Landreth was born in Dunedin, New Zealand. His father, Robert Landreth, was a schoolmaster in that city and his mother, Elizabeth Faulks, came from a farming family. He was educated at Otago Boys’ High School and it is a measure of his early academic prowess that he became a New Zealand University Junior National Scholar one year before he was old enough to matriculate. He graduated from the Otago Medical School and was then appointed house physician and house surgeon to the Public Hospital at Christchurch. He later moved to England to further his clinical studies and in 1926 obtained his membership of the College at the age of 24 years. He was elected a Fellow in 1954. During his two years in England he held resident appointments at the London Chest Hospital and at Harefield Hospital where he was deputy medical director. He returned to New Zealand as assistant medical superintendent of the Christchurch Hospital - a position he relinquished in 1930 when he entered private practice, while continuing his hospital responsibilities as a visiting physician.
As a reflection of the times, his work as a physician ranged over the whole field of internal medicine but he became increasingly interested in his younger patients and while he had some personal reservations about the development of paediatrics as a separate specialty he accepted responsibility for children admitted to hospital with medical conditions. He was appointed medical superintendent of the Karitane Babies Hospital and a substantial part of his private consultant practice was with infants and children. In spite of his unwavering claim to be a general physician there is no doubt that he laid the foundations of paediatrics in Christchurch and he became a founder member of the New Zealand Paediatric Society. Formal recognition of his contribution to child health came with his appointment as Montgomery Spencer lecturer in 1958, his topic being ‘Primary tuberculosis in childhood’.
‘Johnie’, as he was known to colleagues and students alike, was an erudite man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of contemporary medical literature and an extraordinary memory for detail. This, together with his shrewd clinical judgement and great courtesy towards his patients, made him an excellent bedside teacher. He was for many years external examiner in medicine to the University of Otago and generations of students remember the benign and understanding manner in which he carried out those duties.
In 1958 he became sub-dean of the Christchurch branch medical faculty and during his tenure the first full-time research and teaching post was established; he thus played a part in sowing the seeds of a now flourishing school of medicine. He was dedicated to the welfare of his profession and played an active part in what was then the New Zealand branch of the BMA, his role as a leader being recognized in 1959 when he was elected president.
His association with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians was a source of quiet pride to him. He was involved in the discussions which led to its establishment and became a foundation fellow in 1938, devoting a great deal of his time and talent to its nurture. He was a member of the board of censors, 1948-65, becoming senior censor in 1959, and also a member of the Dominion Committee and honorary treasurer, becoming New Zealand vice-president, 1964-66. His inestimable contribution to the evolution of New Zealand medicine and paediatrics was recognized by his appointment as CBE in 1964 and subsequently by the award of the College medal at a meeting in Hobart in 1986. His latter years were made difficult by serious visual impairment but, with the assistance of his physician son John, he was able to attend the 50th jubilee meeting of the College in Sydney in 1988 - where he was honoured as one of a small group of surviving founder fellows.
John Landreth had many qualities which contributed to his success as a doctor and as a leader of his profession. There could be no doubt about his impressive intellect but he had no patience with professional arrogance and cant. Yet he was forgiving of shortcomings in his colleagues and junior staff, to whom he gave unswerving loyalty and support. His kindness was not simply a professional veneer; it was widely known that many less affluent Christchurch folk received the best available medical opinion without ever receiving a matching account.
His visual handicap in his latter years was a tragic burden for one who enjoyed a reputation as the best read physician in the country, yet he retained his impeccable memory, charm and good humour. It is unlikely that he could have done so much for his patients and for his profession without the benefit of a secure and supportive home and this he certainly had with his wife Marie née Jamieson, whom he married in 1933 and who sadly predeceased him by some years. With his wife he shared a great love of their extensive garden and considerable pride in their three children, Jane, Catherine and John.
F T Shannon
(Volume IX, page 302)
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