Lives of the fellows

Peter Knowles Renshaw

b.21 October 1917 d.December 1985
MA Cantab(1939) MB BChir(1942) MRCP(1948) FRACP(1970) FRCP(1973)

Peter Renshaw died at Dunedin, New Zealand. He had been educated at Repton and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Since his father was a doctor, as were many members of his family going back over four generations in the Manchester area, it is not surprising that he elected to read medicine. He proceeded to the London Hospital for his clinical training. There, through his discerning interest in his mentor’s methods of teaching, he developed a style of his own which not only held the interest of his students but also encouraged them to think for themselves.

During the war he served with the RAMC in West Africa and Europe. After demobilization he was appointed medical registrar to the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, becoming senior registrar there in 1949. Applications for senior medical posts in the United Kingdom were heavily over-subscribed at this time and, in 1951, with characteristic initiative, he applied for and was appointed senior registrar to Sir Horace Smirk in Dunedin. There he enjoyed such friendship and hospitality from Sir Horace’s family and his other colleagues that he never seriously considered leaving New Zealand.

In 1956 he was appointed physician and lecturer in medicine to the University of Otago, and became the first medical member on the staff of the new Wakari Hospital in Dunedin on his appointment as medical superintendent, a position he held until his retirement. His ability to judge character enabled him to collect a team which established the high reputation of the new hospital. He recruited numerous medical graduates from overseas, many of whom were surprised to get a long distance telephone call long before they expected a reply to their application. By asking a few shrewd questions, which the candidates had not anticipated, he often obtained more candid information than would have been forthcoming from a formal interview. In addition to his administrative duties, he made time to continue the clinical work and teaching which he so much enjoyed. He was made a senior lecturer to Otago University in 1970 and elected FRACP in 1975. He became a foundation member of the New Zealand College of Community Medicine in 1980, and latterly was appointed deputy medical superintendent in chief to the Otago Hospital board. He visited England regularly, returning often to his old teaching hospital, where he used to hold ward rounds for the undergraduates.

Peter was a very much repected and loved member of the medical community in Dunedin. He was always deeply concerned with the health and welfare of his junior staff. He had a keen financial sense and regularly listened to the stock market reports on the BBC World Service. Many charities benefited from his well chosen investments, including the Otago Medical Research Foundation, the New Zealand Medical Education Trust, the Dunedin Diocesan Trust Board and the Crippled Children Society. He generously loaned his house in Wanaka and his beautiful yacht, Lenticula, to his friends, including many of his juniors. Only a few weeks before his death he endowed the Peter Renshaw Charitable Trust.

At University Peter’s friends gained some insight into his character when he joined the Gliding Club, for this sport enabled him to develop his many skills. He pioneered gliding in the South Island and when the Otago Gliding Club was formed he became its first president and was appointed chief flying officer. Those of us who were privileged to see the superb photographs which he took from his glider readily understood his fascination with the sport.

Since some of his forbears had had heart attacks at a relatively early age, Peter was prepared for the massive cardiac infarction which he sustained when only 46. He philosophically gave up gliding for sailing and soon became an able helmsman.

Peter always remained young at heart. He had an impish sense of humour and loved entertaining children with his conjuring tricks. His disarming charm opened many doors that were closed to the less enterprising.

He was a staunch supporter of St Paul’s Cathedral in Dunedin. The funeral service there was a final tribute to one of whom it can be said ‘There went a beloved physician and a gallant one withal’.

JK Wagstaff
J Hannah
J Ledingham

[, 22 Jan 1986]

(Volume VIII, page 406)

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