Lives of the fellows

Charles Graham Riley

b.16 May 1912 d.28 August 1998
QSO(1977) MB ChB Otago(1935) MRCP(1940) MRACP(1945) FRACP(1955) FRCP(1962)

Graham Riley was the first head of the department of geriatric medicine for the North Canterbury Hospital Board, New Zealand.

He was born in Dunedin, the third son of Frederick and Susan Riley. His father was a surgeon and professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Otago. Graham was educated at John McGlashan College and graduated from Otago in 1935. A long association with Christchurch Hospital began in 1936 with resident appointments. From 1937 to 1938 he was assistant superintendent.

He went to London for further training and worked at the Royal Masonic Hospital. Immediately after gaining his membership of the College he enlisted with the second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He served from 1940 to 1944 in England, the Middle East and the Pacific, reaching the rank of major. Whilst working as a physician at a casualty clearing station in Guadalcanal he kept a clinical diary, The sick soldier, which he later presented to a New Zealand military library.

In 1944 Graham married Patricia White of Wellington. He returned to Christchurch Hospital as medical registrar, before becoming an assistant physician in 1946. He was the first Christchurch general physician to limit his private practice to referred consultant work.

After further post-graduate study in England in 1952 he specialized in neurology, which provided the background for his increasing interest in the care of the elderly. For nine years he was director of medicine for the North Canterbury Hospital Board, before becoming the first head of the department of geriatric medicine from 1972 to 1977. He established an assessment and rehabilitation unit at Princess Margaret Hospital and started the planning for a chair in health care of the elderly.

Graham Riley was slight in stature, but possessed boundless energy for a huge range of professional, community and sporting activities. He was a most efficient organizer who communicated well, was a good listener, particularly to younger colleagues, and set the highest standards, both in his personal care of patients and in his leadership of numerous professional organizations. He served the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in many capacities, including senior censor from 1965 to 1970, and New Zealand vice-president from 1968 to 1970.

His committee activities ranged from the presidency of the Canterbury division of the BMA, to membership of the boards of the Mount Cook National Park, the Royal Humane Society, the Health Committees on Poisons and Drug Dependency, the Search and Rescue Advisory Committee and many others. In his retirement he made an enormous contribution to the welfare of older people through various executive appointments, including a term as president of the New Zealand Geriatrics Society.

In 1977 Graham Riley became a companion of the Queen’s Service Order in recognition of his contribution to public services.

Graham’s interests extended far beyond medicine. It was during his holidays on his father’s sheep station at Lake Hawea that he first experienced his love of the mountains and the outdoors. With three others he made the maiden ascent of a peak in the Southern Alps and, in 1964, with his wife Patricia, he conquered Mount Rolleston. His cottage Beechwood in the Arthurs Pass National Park was a joy and inspiration for the Riley family and their friends.

Graham loved cricket and enjoyed coaching his sons, one of whom achieved provincial representative honours. A big moment for the not so young physician was when he rose to his feet on the Lancaster Park embankment to catch a huge six from the big hitting New Zealand international, Tony MacGibbon. The Christchurch press reported that the ball "was caught by a young man in a brown hat".

Graham and Patricia shared a very happy marriage for 54 years and were true partners in all their activities. With their four sons, three of whom live in the United States, they enjoyed a wonderful family life. It was cruel and perhaps ironic that he suffered from Parkinson’s disease in his later years, a diagnosis which he made himself while watching a home video. In keeping with his philosophy, he strove to be as active as possible, supported by his loving wife and uplifted by the spectacular views of his beloved Southern Alps.

Sir David Hay

(Volume XI, page 483)

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