Lives of the fellows

Christopher John Mercer

b.20 September 1933 d.1 April 2000
MB ChB NZ(1957) MRCP(1965) MRACP(1969) FRACP(1974) FRCP(1982)

John Mercer was a general physician and coronary care specialist in Auckland, New Zealand. For over 30 years he covered acute medicine and coronary care. His vision of a full-time public hospital service began with his own meticulous patient care but included teaching, advocacy and collegiality, all with a leavening of droll good humour.

He was born in Wellington. His father, J O Mercer [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.334] was a prominent pathologist and his grandfather, W B Mercer, a Cambridge graduate and general practitioner. John Mercer was educated at Wanganui Collegiate school and studied medicine in Dunedin at the Otago Medical School. A jovial, popular student, he revelled in good fellowship and was a notable poker-faced ballerina in student entertainments.

Graduating in 1957, he completed house jobs at the Wellington Hospital. He then pursued postgraduate studies in London, gaining his membership of the College and spending several years at Hammersmith Hospital. He was registrar for J P Shillingford and also worked for T Russell Fraser.

In 1969 he returned to New Zealand as medical tutor specialist at Auckland's Green Lane Hospital, always a quality place to work. John nurtured and enhanced the teaching of medical and nursing staff there. With Robin Norris he pioneered coronary care and together they wrote about cardiac arrhythmias. Later John was appointed a full-time physician and coronary care specialist.

He communicated well with patients and their relatives, supported his junior staff and practised painstaking medicine. The busy cardiothoracic unit appreciated his sound judgment and ability to relate harmoniously and John was their consultant of first choice.

Over the subsequent 20 years he became a central figure in general medicine, both in Auckland and nationally. He represented New Zealand on the council of the Australasian College of Physicians and chaired the subcommittee on scientific meetings and continuing education. Although he held definite opinions and could be a vigorous advocate, his quirky sense of humour emerged at unexpected moments, helping to ease tension.

In 1989, despite John's opposition, Green Lane's general medical services were relocated at Auckland and North Shore Hospitals. John was the last general physician on site at Green Lane but then made a major contribution to general medicine at Auckland Hospital. After his formal retirement in 1998 he continued as a locum there until his death.

In 1990 John wrote about general medicine in a history of Green Lane Hospital. He stressed 'the single minded resolve that the patient's interest came first' and the importance of 'the mutual respect that existed between all members of the staff.' His own pivotal 20 year contribution was not mentioned.

Outside medicine he was a strong family man. In 1959, he married Rosemary Anne Jardine, the daughter of a Gisborne doctor. They were the proud parents of four children. Their daughter, Kirsten, is New Zealand's first female cardiac surgeon, continuing the family's outstanding medical contribution. When John and Anne came to Auckland they restored a large heritage villa. After the house was completed they created a showpiece garden. Both had gardening expertise and John was interested in shrubs, rhododendrons and clematis. They were generous hosts to visitors and friends.

Cricket was John's sporting enthusiasm and he was known even to interrupt Christmas dinner to engage the family in beach cricket. Less popular was his penchant for old cars. This reached a nadir when an inherited 1971 Wolsely passed its use by date and John replaced it with an even older model Triumph. An unobtrusive but loyal churchman, he was the parish's church warden. After working in the church gardens he was relaxing listening to the cricket on the car radio when he died suddenly.

Warm, with a ready smile, without airs and apparently at ease with himself, he was good company and evoked the affection of his patients and colleagues. Friends saw him as the doctor they would have take care of them when sick, and the sort of person they would have liked to have been. He was a fine physician and a lovable man.

G I Nicholson

(Volume XI, page 392)

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