Lives of the fellows

Ewen Garth McQueen

b.9 January 1917 d.2 June 1997
CBE(1982) VRD(1965) MB BS Sydney(1940) MRCP(1949) PhD NZ(1960) FRCP(1970) FRACP

Born into a family of Hebridean stock with academic and medical interests, it is perhaps not suprising that Garth McQueen devoted his life to academic medicine. What is outstanding, however, is the breadth of these and other activities in which Garth was involved during his long and distinguished career.

He was educated at the King’s School, Parramatta, New South Wales, and the University of Sydney, completing his basic medical training in 1940, during which time he also served with the Sydney University Regiment. Having completed his house surgeon year at Sydney, he joined the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve as a surgeon lieutenant and saw service in Britain, the Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans while on loan to the Royal Navy. After the war he had two year long spells at hospitals in Sydney and Birmingham before becoming chief assistant to the professor of medicine (and acting professor for six months) at the University of Queensland. Attracted by the active research team built up by Sir Horace Smirk [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.482], he went to Dunedin as a senior research officer in 1954, studying for his PhD on hypertension, as well as contributing to clinical research. In 1958 he became senior lecturer in clinical pharmacology (when such appointments were rare), advancing to associate professor in 1965 and to a personal chair in the by then independent department of pharmacology in 1971.

During his academic career he published regularly, with research papers and articles covering topics from gout, renal physiology, pharmacology and toxicology, hypertension and its treatment in animals and humans, drug-protein binding, to the adverse effects of drugs, medicines and chemicals. While Garth never shirked his academic teaching, clinical and administrative duties, it was in other areas that he really made his major contribution. In 1964 he set up a NZ National Poisons Information Centre, which grew to include hazardous chemicals, adverse drug reactions and led to the development of an Intensive Medicines Monitoring Programme. He also served as director of the MRC Toxicology Research Unit and in 1968 was founding chair of their standing committee on therapeutic trials, so that in a few years, and well in advance of many other countries, he single-handedly established clinical pharmacology and toxicology as public services and research areas in New Zealand. At the same time he was a founding member of the Australasian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists (to which the society’s name the Toxicologists have more recently been added). He was also for many years closely associated with numerous international, government and research organizations involved with specific clinical pharmacological and toxicological problems. It was indicative of his work capacity that when Garth retired three people had to be employed to cover the same load. He was of the select group who regarded a WHO meeting in Geneva as no reason to be away from Dunedin for more than three days.

Garth also enjoyed his non-academic pursuits, particularly sailing and skiing. He could be found at weekends, again single-handed, sailing his dinghy in weather when no-one else would venture on the harbour. He kept his naval interests going after the war, officially retiring as surgeon commander of the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1966, though continuing to help out the local reserve division for several years more, and having been awarded the Volunteer Reserve Decoration. The honour of the award of Commander of the Order of the British Empire came on his academic retirement in 1982.

Even after he retired from his University post, Garth continued to pursue an active research and medical career. He was physician to the blood transfusion service for several years, an activity for which many donors were grateful, and used his extensive community contacts to organize a senior citizens auxiliary of the local medical research foundation to sponsor and carry out research in older people. In his later retirement he was writing his autobiography, as well as reviving his interest in playing the violin, and continued to serve the community as a deliverer of meals on wheels.

It could be said that Garth died as he had lived, quietly and without fuss, although his unexpected death was a severe blow to his family, his wife Marion (an Oxford graduate he met as a WRNS officer on a blind date), their four children and his grandchildren. Garth’s capacity for hard work arose from his excellent organizational abilities, his ability for getting things done without upsetting people’, his ability to recognize a problem, to have the courage of his convictions and the skills, background and personality to achieve a successful result. He could work with academics, government servants, or people in pharmaceutical research or marketing, and succeed by impeccable logic, determination and his ability to inspire confidence that the job was worth doing and would be done well. He was above all a gentleman, a skilled physician and an outstanding leader, whose practical foresight will be sadly missed.

R Laverty

[Otago Daily Times, 7 June 1997; New Zealand Medical Journal, 8 Aug 1997; The Australian, 15 July 1997]

(Volume X, page 320)

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