Lives of the fellows

Richard Alfred Amyas Pellew

b.9 June 1911 d.28 March 1976
MB BS Adelaide(1934) MRCP(1937) MRACP(1939) FRACP(1957) FRCP(1970)

Richard Pellew was born at Balaklava, South Australia, the second son of Leonard James Pellew, a surgeon, and of Hirell Alice Ternouth, both of Adelaide. He was educated at St Peter’s College and Adelaide University, graduating in 1934.

He was junior resident medical officer at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1935, and senior RMO in 1936. He went to London and took the MRCP in 1937. In 1938 he was medical registrar at the Westminster Hospital, and then returned to Australia to become medical superintendent of the Adelaide Children’s Hospital in 1939.

Early in 1940 Pellew volunteered for the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps, and embarked for the Middle East theatre in April 1941 with the rank of captain, as regimental medical officer of the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, Australian Imperial Force. The unit saw action principally in Syria. In January 1942 he was promoted to major and was posted as a specialist physician to the 2/1st Australian General Hospital. The hospital soon returned to Australia, with many other Australian units, in response to the Japanese advance, and was stationed in Western Australia. From there, Pellew was transferred to No 105 Australian Military Hospital, Adelaide, was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and was invalided from the service in 1944.

On his return to civilian life he entered private practice in partnership with his elder brother Leonard, a surgeon. He also resumed his association with the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and this continued until his death. He was successively: honorary clinical assistant in general medicine, honorary assistant physician, honorary physician, and senior visiting physician until his tragic death in an accident in his home, in March 1976, which occurred only a few months before he was due to retire from the hospital on reaching the age limit.

For many years, between 1948 and 1955, he was actively involved as visiting medical officer in the infectious diseases wing of the hospital. In 1950 — 1951 a large epidemic of poliomyelitis occurred, causing scores of admissions and many deaths. At that time he became interested in the illnesses which could simulate non-paralytic or mild poliomyelitis. This led to a pioneering paper: ‘A clinical description of a disease resembling Poliomyelitis seen in Adelaide 1949 -51’ (Med. J. Aust., 30 June 1951, p. 944-46). He carefully followed the progress of the patients with this, at that time, puzzling illness, and with a virologist colleague later described some further, inconclusive attempts to isolate and define the causal agents: ‘Further investigations on a disease resembling Poliomyelitis seen in Adelaide’, (RAA Pellew & JAR Miles, Med. J. Aust., 24 September 1955, p 480-82). Adequate virological techniques for these agents had not at that time been developed. In 1958 he was co-author of a further clinical report on cases of Bornholm Disease in Adelaide: ‘Bornholm disease in an Adelaide suburban area’ (L Kaupmees and RAA Pellew, Med. J. Aust., Vol. 1, 1958, p 517-18).

He was basically a general physician with a liking for neurology and a strong bent toward bedside work, an attitude he tried to impart to his students. He was not much given to elaborate laboratory work-ups or biochemical profiles, but he was a strong advocate of the value of pathology as a basis for clinical medicine. He was generous, impulsive and warm-hearted, and also irascible and impatient in a good-natured way, and there was no trace of pomp in the way he ran his ward. He liked to teach, he was good at it, and his down-to-earth practical bedside approach made him very popular with the undergraduates. For many years he held an informal crowded weekly ward round, at which there were nearly always some senior visitors, who had come to contribute in a relaxed and friendly fashion in which ‘one-upmanship’ was out of place.

He had many loyal friends both within and outside the profession, and many supporters among South Australian general practitioners, especially from country districts. He was always interested in and well informed about rural affairs and about sport and outdoor pursuits. As a young man he represented his university and the State of South Australia at baseball. Later in life he was an expert cricket watcher, and at home worked energetically in his large rambling garden.

He married Winifred Ruth, daughter of Frank Sandland Hone, a physician, of Adelaide, in 1938. She survived him, with their only child Richard, a graduate in agricultural science at the University of Adelaide.

JS Robertson

[Med.J.Aust., 8 May 1976, 1(19) 718-9]

(Volume VII, page 455)

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