Lives of the fellows

Edward George (Sir) Sayers

b.10 September 1902 d.12 May 1985
Kt(1965) CMG(1956) KStJ MB ChB NZ(1924) DTM&H(Eng) MRCP(1935) FRACP(1938) FRCP(1949) MD(1959) FRS NZ(1961) Hon FACP(1957) Hon FRCPE(1960)

Sir Edward Sayers was formerly dean of the medical faculty and professor of therapeutics at the University of Otago, New Zealand. As dean of the Otago Medical School he succeeded Sir Charles Hercus [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.236] when he retired in 1958.

Edward Sayers was educated at Christ’s College, Christchurch, and Otago University and medical school, Dunedin, where he graduated in medicine in 1924. He then came to the UK to study for his DTM&H at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine before becoming a medical missionary. From 1927 to 1934 he served in this capacity in the British Solomon Islands. A new hospital was built, and time was found to send specimens of mosquitoes to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and snakes to the British Museum. Unfortunately, the mission was closed in 1934 for economic reasons. In 1940 Edward Sayers was awarded the Australian Cilento medal for his outstanding work for native welfare in the Pacific.

He used up all his meagre savings to come to London in 1935, did a cram course, and passed his MRCP at his first attempt. Once his money ran out he returned to Auckland and set up in general practice, but his manifest clinical abilities were soon in great demand and after 1938 he became a consultant physician, holding a visiting appointment at Auckland Hospital.

On the eve of the second world war, Edward Sayers was called up into the New Zealand Medical Corps. He was drafted to the Middle East in 1940, as a specialist in tropical medicine at the 1st New Zealand General Hospital, which went to Greece. When the Pacific theatre of war opened he was transferred to the 3rd NZ Division and was in command of the 4th General Hospital at Noumea, New Caledonia. He did important work on malaria prevention, was promoted to the rank of colonel, and awarded the US Legion of Merit in 1944.

After the war he returned to consulting practice in Auckland and became a leading physician. His grand rounds at Auckland Hospital soon became known, and the hospital became a showplace for open discussion and informed criticism long before it was common medical practice. Indeed openness was one of Edward Sayers’ endearing traits; he was always prepared to stand up and be counted.

Sayers was chairman of the Dominion Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and its nominee on the Medical Council of New Zealand. He was a founder fellow of the College and the first New Zealander to be elected president, 1956-58, which involved much travel to Australia.

In 1958 he became dean of Otago Medical School, but he retained his clinical interests and the weekly round at his medical unit was a star attraction. With the splitting of the University of New Zealand into independent universities, several special schools including medicine lost their semi-autonomous position, and the deanship entered a difficult phase. But the clinical basis of the medical school was strengthened by new chairs, and Edward Sayers never forgot that it was the education of the general practitioner which was paramount. He persuaded the Wellcome Trust in London to fund a new building for medical research and to endow a chair of experimental medicine for Sir Horace Smirk. Edward’s own memorial is the Sayers Building in Dunedin, where he initiated the medical library and administration offices before his retirement.

He was president of the New Zealand branch of the BMA in 1963, elected a Fellow of the College in 1949 and a FRS(NZ) in 1961. He was also an honorary fellow of the American College of Physicians and of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

He kept up with the latest developments in medicine and always knew where to get the best advice. He was much consulted by national bodies and was chairman of the scientific committee of the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand, 1968-79.

Edward Sayers was a gregarious man who made easy contacts with everyone he met. He encouraged promising juniors and most people were the better for his wise advice.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
V Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1985,290,1819; Lancet, 1985,1,1346; Otago Daily Times, NZ,l3 Aug 1958; Wellington Evening Post, 3 June l960,Auckland Star 3 June 1960,12 Aug 1958]

(Volume VIII, page 437)

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