Lives of the fellows

John Daniel Bergin

b.17 January 1921 d.22 July 1995
MB ChB Otago(1943) MRACP(1947) MRCP(1951) FRACP(1957) FRCP(1969)

John Bergin (‘Jack’) was a clinical neurologist who helped establish the specialty in his native New Zealand. He born in Foxton, on the North Island, into a family of six children. His mother died when he was just 12 years old. He graduated from the Otago Medical School with a distinction in medicine. Shortly afterwards he joined the New Zealand Army Medical Corps and saw service in the Middle East, Italy and Japan. After his return to New Zealand he worked at the Dunedin and Wellington Hospitals before travelling to Britain as a postgraduate student and then house physician at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith. The award of a Nuffield fellowship led to his appointment to the National Hospital, Queen Square, London. His association with other trainees led to lifelong friendships with prominent figures in neurology in many parts of the world.

In 1955 he returned to consultant neurological practice in Wellington and was appointed as a neurologist to Wellington Hospital. The concept of specialization was then not well developed, but, with his intellectual capacity, clinical competence, attention to detail and tact, John Bergin demonstrated to his colleagues that patients were served best by a physician with specialist training. He helped achieve the establishment of appropriate facilities and personnel for neuroradiological and EEG investigation. At that time there were only two neurosurgical units in New Zealand - one in Auckland and one in Dunedin.

He also sustained a long-term commitment to the Home of Compassion Hospital in Wellington and was also visiting neurologist to several provincial hospitals. After retiring from his hospital post he maintained a lively interest in neurology, continued his clinical teaching of undergraduates and postgraduates, and regularly attended weekly clinical meetings in neurology. His concern for the overall care of those suffering from neurological illness was demonstrated by his work for the New Zealand Epilepsy Association. He served on the Association Council from 1957 to 1977.

He contributed to the formation of the New Zealand Neurological Association and was later was a foundation member of the Australasian Association of Neurologists. From 1972 to 1976 he was a member of the scientific advisory committee of the New Zealand Neurological Foundation.

He published several papers on neurological topics, but wrote predominately on ethical issues, gaining recognition as an invited guest speaker at international conferences. Within New Zealand he was a prime organizer of major national conferences on issues such as care of the dying, social justice and health care. He was a very active member of the New Zealand Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child. He had an active public profile and was prominent in the preparation of submissions to Parliamentary Select Committees and Royal Commissions concerning the rights of the unborn child. He served as the Society’s national president from 1974 to 1982.

He was a devout Catholic. He was the backbone of many of the activities of the Guild of Catholic Doctors - the Guild of Saint Luke, Saints Cosmas and Damian, which he served for many years as master. He considered that the voice of Catholic doctors was important on the international health care scene.

John Bergin was a man of compassion, warmth and humour. He was an avid reader and his interests were wide. With little encouragement he would rapidly become engaged in conversation embracing a wide range of subjects, from history, political systems, to theology and the family.

In 1947 he married Lorna Stark and they sustained an exemplary, happy partnership and had eight children. In 1982 they were both appointed by Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Council for the Family. Jack was further honoured in 1990 by the Papal award of a Knighthood of St Gregory the Great.

Thomas V O’Donnell

(Volume X, page 29)

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