Lives of the fellows

John Egerton Caughey

b.8 August 1904 d.29 February 2000
MB ChB New Zealand(1929) MRCP(1932) FRACP(1936) MD(1937) FRCP(1947)

'Jock' (as he was known to family and friends) Caughey made a major contribution to the development of neurology in New Zealand. Tall, erect, handsome and a model of courtesy, he had a commanding presence. He was the youngest of a family of six, which was prominent in the commercial life of Auckland and the Methodist Church there. The family had a strong tradition of public service. After schooling in Auckland at King’s College, he went to Knox College, Dunedin, and the University of Otago where, as at school, he was prominent in sporting and student affairs. After graduating in medicine in 1929 and a year’s internship in Auckland, he travelled to London, as the custom then was, for postgraduate study. He was house physician at Brompton Hospital and the National Hospital Queen Square, where he settled on a career in neurology. He gained experience in psychiatry by clerking at the Maudsley Hospital and, after travelling to the USA in 1934, at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital. In 1935 he returned to Auckland and commenced practice as a junior honorary physician at the Auckland and Mater Misericordiae hospitals and in private as a neurologist. With the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and served in the Middle East and Italy, becoming commanding officer of the medical services of the Second General Hospital and later commanding officer of the Third General Hospital with the rank of colonel and being mentioned in despatches. He was physician/neurologist to the 15th Scottish Hospital in Cairo from 1944 to 1945. On returning to New Zealand in 1945 he became a senior physician to the Auckland Hospital and resumed neurological practice.

In 1950, to the surprise of many, he gave up his well established position in Auckland to accept the invitation of the dean of the University of Otago Medical School to become associate professor in neurology in order to strengthen teaching in that field. It was a fortunate appointment for the school and the hospital. Jock was a charismatic teacher and more than any other single individual was responsible for introducing to medicine in New Zealand the method of examining the nervous system and analysing its disorders which had been systematised by (Sir) Gordon Holmes [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.195] at Queen Square in the first third of the 20th century.

In the 1950s there were only two neurosurgical units in the country – in Auckland and Dunedin, with the dividing line for referrals approximately in the middle of the North Island. Each month Jock, with the neurosurgeon Anthony James, travelled by night train to Christchurch, where they would spend a day assessing patients and then move on by overnight ferry to Wellington to see the referrals there. Patients requiring surgery were transferred to Dunedin.

In those years Jock and his wife Dora were wonderfully supportive of students often, but not exclusively, from his old College, and from a variety of faculties. Sunday evenings with a family supper in their spacious home filled with music and laughter were an important part of the lives of many.

Jock Caughey’s principal research contribution related to dystrophia myotonica, which had first captured his interest at Queen Square when he published an account of its association with cataract. In Dunedin he investigated its endocrine associations, culminating in a paper in Brain in 1962. As a result of his experience with neurosurgical patients he became increasingly interested in hypopituitarism and other endocrine disorders. Part of his sabbatical leave from 1960 to 1962 was spent in London as an exchange professor at the Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, and part as visiting scientist at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, where in collaboration with N C Myrianthopoulos he wrote the monograph Dystrophia myotonica and related disorders (Springfield, Illinois, Thomas, 1963).

In keeping with family tradition and his religious faith he became increasingly concerned in the Dunedin years with a range of social issues. He campaigned for the obligatory wearing of helmets by motorcyclists, and was co-founder of the National Society of Drug Abuse and Alcoholism. He stressed the importance of regarding alcoholism as a disease and played a key role in establishing Alcoholics Anonymous in New Zealand, which he saw as providing the most effective approach to treatment. Later, in 1989, he set up a trust with a view to establishing a professorial chair in alcoholism at the Auckland Medical School. He also endowed a lecture on alcoholism to be given at the annual meeting of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

His increasing concerns with broader social issues led to his resignation from Otago University in 1962 to become medical officer to a Moral Rearmament Task Force which visited India, Pakistan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and Tonga. He was appointed professor and chairman of the department of medicine at the Mosul Medical College of the University of Baghdad, Iraq. From 1965 to 1969 he was guest professor of medicine at the Pahlavi University Medical School, Shiraz, Iran. On reaching the retirement age of 65 he was appointed chief physician at the Abadan Iranian Oil Company Hospital, a post he held until 1978. He remained active in research throughout his professional life, exploiting the opportunities afforded by his clinical experience to illuminate a range of problems. In Cairo and Auckland he wrote on poliomyelitis, and in the Middle East years he published accounts of endemic goitre in Iraq and protein calorie malnutrition in adolescents in Iran. At 74 he returned to New Zealand where, his enthusiasm for medicine and teaching undiminished, he became physician to the Southland General Hospital in Invercargill, the southernmost city of the country, and an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Otago. He retired to Lake Wanaka when he was 78, where he continued to fish and play golf in sight of the lake and the great mountains there well into his nineties. Jock’s seemingly endless energy was matched by his long-retained youthful appearance, still striking in a photograph taken at the 40th anniversary reunion of the class he first taught in 1953.

Jock Caughey was much involved with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, being a foundation fellow (1936) and censor (1954 to 1962). In 1981 he was awarded a medal by the College in recognition of his contributions as an ‘international physician and respected teacher’.

W I McDonald


(Volume XII, page web)

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