Lives of the fellows

Harry Maynard Rennie

b.26 July 1904 d.9 March 1997
MB BS Sydney(1928) MRCP(1932) MRACP(1938) FRACP(1946) FRCP(1954) Hon FACP(1971)

Maynard Rennie (known to his medical colleagues as ‘Ted’) was one of the pioneers of thoracic medicine in Australia, but throughout his life he maintained the broad perspective of a general physician. He was the son of George Edward Rennie [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.485], an eminent and highly respected Sydney physician, and his second wife, Hester Evangeline Brookes. Young Maynard admired his father, followed his calling as a physician and, like him, gave a lifetime of outstanding service to medicine and to the wider community.

After graduating in 1928 he became a resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA), Sydney’s senior teaching hospital. In 1930 he married Ruby Holdsworth and took his bride on a honeymoon voyage to London for postgraduate study. He gained the MRCP in 1932. On returning to Sydney they settled in the suburb of Ashfield where Rennie commenced general practice, with considerable success. In 1933 he was appointed clinical assistant in medicine at his old hospital, RPA, and in 1938 he was made an honorary assistant physician. This hospital remained from that time the hub of his professional life, while private practice continued to be the source of his income. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians was founded in 1938. His appointment at a teaching hospital and his possession of the MRCP would have made him eligible for a foundation fellowship had he been practising solely as a consultant, but he was still conducting a general practice. Instead he took the College’s first membership examination in September that year and gained the MRACP. He was elected to the fellowship in 1946, not long after relinquishing general practice to become a consultant physician in Macquarie Street.

Rennie had a special interest in thoracic medicine and set up a bronchoscopy clinic at RPA. In the second half of the 1940s he joined forces with Cotter Harvey, a physician with extensive experience in pulmonary tuberculosis, and together they founded the thoracic unit. It and the cardiac unit were the first of the special units developed within the department of medicine in the very active post-war period. The new unit flourished and in time developed into a first class centre with a reputation for excellence in patient care, teaching and research.

In 1956 Rennie became an honorary physician at RPA, one of five senior physicians, each of whom was in charge of a medical unit at the hospital. The professor of medicine at the University of Sydney headed another unit, making six in all. By 1959 the increasing work of the thoracic unit demanded his full attention and he was appointed honorary thoracic physician. On reaching the then statutory retirement age in 1964 he was made an honorary consulting physician, a title of honour which he held until his death nearly thirty three years later. Hospital retirement did not however mean an end to his private consulting practice, which he did not finally relinquish until 1983.

Rennie was a member of the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis in Australia (NAPTA), the medical wing of which in 1952 became the Australian Laennec Society. It later changed its name to the Australian Thoracic Society and is now, after amalgamating with a similar body in New Zealand, the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand. It is a very active body and it maintains a close relationship with the Royal Australiasian College of Physicians. In 1984 the Society made Rennie an honorary member to mark his contribution to thoracic medicine.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians was another important centre of his medical activities. In 1950 he was appointed honorary secretary and thereby an ex-officio member of the council and of the executive committee. He held that demanding post for ten years and then remained on the council until 1974 in various roles, including elected councillor, vice-president and president.

He was a member of the New South Wales Medical Board from 1962 to 1974, serving as president from 1972 to 1974. In 1971 Rennie was appointed to a committee set up by the Commonwealth Government to compose a list of those deemed eligible to be recognized as specialists for the purposes of the National Health Service. This was needed because in Australia the registration of medical practitioners is a matter for individual states, most of which have a general register of legally qualified medical practitioners, but no register of specialists. Rennie was the first chairman of that committee. Under his guidance, and with advice from the appropriate colleges, the requirements for recognition as a specialist in the various medical and surgical disciplines were laid down, and lists of specialists were drawn up and maintained. This was, and remains today, the only comprehensive and authoritative register of specialists covering the whole of Australia.

Rennie’s childhood was spent in a family with strong religious convictions and customs, including daily family prayers, and Sundays given over entirely to prayer, religious reading and worship. In his adult life he relaxed the more austere aspects of these religious practices, but preserved a deep faith and a strong attachment to his Church. He was a very active member of his local congregation and a leader in the affairs of the Congregational Church and its successor, the Uniting Church. He was vice-president to the Congregational Union of Australia from 1958 to 1960 and chairman of the Congregational Union of NSW. He served as assistant moderator of the International Congregational Council from 1958 to 1962, as a board member of the London Congregational Council for World Mission and as vice-president of the Council of Social Services for NSW from 1962 to 1975. He was for many years a fellow of the council of the theological college known as Camden College, and served as its president.

Rennie was a very humane person. He enjoyed the company of friends and colleagues and was a loving husband and father. He and Ruby had three children.

G L McDonald

[Fellowship Affairs, Apr 1997]

(Volume X, page 408)

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