Lives of the fellows

John Desmond Hunter

b.28 September 1925 d.11 July 2003
CBE(1992) MB ChB NZ(1948) MRACP(1952) MRCP(1954) FRACP(1962) MD(1962) FRCP(1967)

John Desmond Hunter was an outstanding physician who made distinguished and innovative contributions to medicine. These embraced cardiology, medical education and medical administration, at both national and local levels within New Zealand, especially during the period 1970 to 1990. He was a forthright leader of high personal integrity and with his wife, Heather, a warm, generous host. His contribution to medical education in New Zealand was immense.

For almost 100 years the only New Zealand medical faculty was that of the University of Otago in Dunedin. During the 1950s it became increasingly apparent that education and training there was suffering through a lack of access to patients and a shortage of funding for the provision of staff in the clinical academic departments. John Hunter was a forceful leader in a campaign for the increased national funding required for the Otago faculty to achieve appropriate standards of facilities and staffing for a modern medical school. The university responded by commissioning a visit and report from Ronald Christie, at that time dean of the medical faculty at McGill University, Montreal. Subsequent to Christie's recommendations, the Otago faculty was expanded with increased staffing and facilities at Dunedin and the development of further University of Otago clinical schools at Christchurch and Wellington.

John Hunter's early education was at King's College, Auckland, of which he was dux. It is said he also won a reputation there for pugnacity in the boxing ring! His tertiary undergraduate years were at Otago, where he graduated top of the class and with a record of distinctions in both physiology and obstetrics. He was awarded the travelling scholarship in medicine.

After a postgraduate year in cardiology at Greenlane Hospital, Auckland, John travelled to London for further training at the Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith Hospital and subsequently at the National Heart Hospital. On his return to Dunedin in 1956, as a lecturer in medicine, he developed specialised cardiology services and pursued research in ischaemic cardiovascular disease. In addition to his studies within the local community and the laboratory, he embarked on studies among wider Pacific population groups, especially in the Cook Islands, with particular interest in the possible role of dietary fat intake of various types in relation to incidence of cardiovascular disease. By 1962 he was appointed chair of medicine.

He was dean of the faculty of medicine from 1973 to 1978, dean of the Christchurch Clinical School from 1982 to 1986, and inaugural assistant vice-chancellor for health sciences. From 1978 to 1982 he served as the inaugural director of continuing medical education for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians based in Sydney, Australia.

John was a major initiator of and participant in the successful campaign which resulted in the development of the New Zealand National Heart Foundation. He served on the board of management and was the first chairman of the research committee. His contributions were acknowledged by his being awarded in 1982 honorary life membership of the Foundation. In 1988 he was awarded the medal of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

He also served with distinction on the Medical Council of New Zealand and on the New Zealand Medical Research Council. In 1992 his services to medicine were acknowledged by the award of CBE.

John Hunter often showed an ability to identify promptly a constructive approach to complex problems. He was an effective chairman of meetings: with his puckish sense of humour, he was able to produce appropriate remarks and reduce tension in difficult situations.

He married Heather Cornish in 1950, who predeceased him in 2000. They had three sons, two daughters and ten grandchildren. Heather was an outstanding, loyal supporter. Together they were renowned for their warm and generous hospitality to their huge circle of friends, colleagues and visitors. Their welcomes to new staff members and their families were particularly appreciated.

John Hunter's favoured recreation was trout fishing. He enjoyed demonstrating his skills to visitors around the rivers of north Otago. On retirement in 1991, he and Heather moved from Dunedin to Wanaka in central Otago to be near to his favourite spots for the opportunity of taking an appropriate share of good fish. Sadly, such pleasure was limited by illnesses afflicting both John and Heather. Ultimately they accepted the necessity for them to return to Dunedin for specialist medical care.

T V O'Donnell

(Volume XI, page 279)

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