Lives of the fellows

John Kempson (Sir) Maddox

b.20 September 1901 d.27 July 1990
KB(1964) VRD(1947) MB ChM Sydney(1924) MRCP(1928) MD(1930) FRACP(1938) FRCP(1956) FACC(1964) AM Singapore(1965) FACP(1975)

In any generation there are numerous persons of academic excellence and professional skill but few with a vision to conceive new ideas and the ability and tenacity to plan their evolution, and to carry them through to an effective conclusion. Australian medicine, and cardiology in particular, was indeed fortunate to have had such a person as John Kempson Maddox. He was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, of British parents, his father being an importer. The family moved to Syndey, Australia, when he was aged three years. He was educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School and North Sydney Boys’ High School. His undergraduate career at the University of Sydney, studying medicine, was brilliant and he graduated with first class honours becoming a resident medical officer at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1924. After further house posts at the Prince Alfred and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, he came to England for postgraduate training, obtaining his membership of the College in 1928. On his return to Australia in 1930 he was appointed assistant physician at the Royal Prince Alfred and that same year was awarded his Sydney MD. He commenced a broad practice of medicine but soon developed a progressive interest in cardiology. As early as 1932, he founded the electrocardiographic department at the Prince Alfred. During this prewar period he also founded the diabetic and rheumatology clinics. It was from the diabetic clinic that he stole nursing sister Madeleine Scott, who became his wife in 1940.

In 1938 Kempson became a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. With the advent of war, he joined the Navy in 1939 and first served in the Westralia, an armed merchantman. Later he was in charge of several naval hospitals, including Canonbury, and rose to the rank of surgeon commander. He was discharged in 1946 but remained a medical consultant to the Royal Australian Navy until 1964, being awarded the VRD in 1947.

After the war, he spent a brief period abroad on a Carnegie fellowship before returning to Australia and the great surge of medicine that occurred in the postwar period. Together with his close associates Tom Greenaway - later Sir Thomas [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.227], Bill Morrow - later Sir Arthur [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.413], Bill Bye, Eric Susman, John Halliday (q.v.) and others, he was involved in the rapid development of all postgraduate activities and in a variety of special clinics. He was elected to the council of the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association and became its president in 1949. He was on the NSW State committee of the RACP from 1954-56 and an acting censor in 1957. But cardiology was his real love and a remarkable 10 years followed. In 1948 he had prevailed on E J Hallstrom, later Sir Edward, to endow a fellowship in cardiology at the Prince Alfred and subsequently to provide funds to set up the Hallstrom Clinic, which opened in 1949. Then, in 1951, together with five others fellows of the College, he made the first move to set up a professional group to advance the knowledge of diseases of the heart; the Australasian Cardiac Society was formed, later to become the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand. The initial meeting was in 1952 and in 1956 Kempson became its second president.

His interest did not stop at national level. With the support of his friend, Paul Dudley White [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.457], the doyen of cardiology in Boston, USA, he and Samia - of the Philipines - played major roles in the foundation of the Asian-Pacific Society of Cardiology. He became president of the Society in 1960, a significant year for Australian cardiology as the second Asian-Pacific Congress was held in Melbourne and, with the help of Paul White, thirteen remarkably gifted young investigators and cardiologists from the USA and Canada were sponsored to the meeting. They made a valuable contribution to the meeting but the link they provided with major departments in the USA was even more important as some subsequently rose to positions of eminence.

Kempson realized the importance of involving a wider group, both lay and medical, to aid the funding of cardiovascular research and when the R T Hall Trustees - three judges and all close friends of his -approached him for advice regarding medical areas which required financial support, he suggested a visiting lectureship, a prize for cardiology and an initial grant to set up the National Heart Foundation of Australia. Paul White came to Australia as the first R T Hall lecturer and lit the torch which Kempson Maddox had been so carefully preparing. Together they visited each of the States to encourage and assist with the formation of State divisions. This had its problems; Paul White was a noted cyclist and insisted they should ride wherever possible and Kempson is reputed to have stated on his return that he would never ride a bicycle again. Kempson Maddox was very active in the organization during the early days, being on the national board, the national executive and the national scientific advisory committee until 1966. He was also on the NSW board until 1972 and president from 1965-66. He then retired from executive positions but his interest did not diminish. In 1982 the Foundation honoured him with the prestigious Sir John Lowenthal award for his outstanding contributions.

In 1964 Kempson was knighted by HM The Queen. In 1966 he was honoured by being elected president of the International Society of Cardiology, a just reward for many years of service. He was also made a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and became an honorary fellow of the council in clinical cardiology of the American Heart Association. In 1974 the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand set up the Sir Kempson Maddox lectureship, and in 1975 he was elected a fellow of the American College of Physicians.

Kempson Maddox was a quiet, charming and unassuming man, but incredibly tenacious. He had a remarkable abilty to make friends and they gave him great support in his endeavours. He was particularly interested in young people, listening to their problems and giving them support, encouragement and guidance. He was a lover of all things French and he liked to visit Noumea, and to deliver papers in Paris in French. In May 1961 he was awarded the Chevalier de L'Order de la Santé Publique for service to New Caledonia. Books were another joy and he had a fine library. He also had wide sporting interests; sailing skiing, golf, tennis and bowls. He loved fishing and his trips to New Zealand were not to visit the land of his birth but rather to join his friend Sam Turner at Taupo, or on one of the streams. He was an inveterate traveller, some of his less respectful younger colleagues referring to him as the modern Marco Polo. Lest it be felt that he was a paragon of virtue there was one page missing from his manual of procedure: punctuality. He was always late. A charming smile and mumbled apologies always let him off the hook.

Madeleine and Kempson, together with their children John and Diana, were great hosts and it was their particular joy to invite friends to their holiday home at Avoca, to be merry and enjoy one of the finest seascapes imaginable.

E J Halliday

[Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Aug 1990; AMA Gazette, 1990]

(Volume IX, page 347)

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