Lives of the fellows

Margaret Isobel Erskine Neave

b.24 September 1920 d.7 January 2007
MB ChB NZ(1943) MRACP(1949) MRCP(1951) DCH(1951) FRACP(1965) FRCP(1979)

Margaret Neave was a devoted paediatrician. During her long career she cared for thousands of children in New Zealand, Western Samoa, the Tokelau Islands, South Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong. She was born in Wellington, New Zealand, one of two daughters. Her father, Thomas Neave, was a barrister who died from typhoid when she was two. Her mother, Flora née MacLennan, was a nurse. Margaret was educated at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in Wellington, where she was dux and then graduated from the Otago Medical School.

She was on the resident staff of the Wellington and Hutt hospitals, a medical registrar in Gisborne and then travelled to England for advanced paediatric training. She worked under the treasured guidance of her mentor George Davidson at Newcastle General Hospital and obtained her MRCP.

On her return to New Zealand she worked in the Health Department, but sadly at that time there was still a reluctance to appoint women as specialists in the hospital service. She was an enthusiastic member of Ian Prior’s team surveying Maori health in the East Cape area of New Zealand. This work was later extended to include the Tokelau Islands and those families who migrated to New Zealand.

From 1965 she spent three years in Western Samoa as a Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) worker and provided tremendous support and encouragement to Kome Kuresa in the development of hospital and community child health services. She was adored by the Samoan mothers and achieved considerable respect from the men!

Margaret then joined a Save the Children Fund group in Vietnam and a year later, in 1969, became the paediatrician with the New Zealand surgical team based at Qui Nhon. She established clinics nearby and further north in the Binh Dinh province. She courageously provided care for children into the communist-held areas in the An Lao valley. Margaret showed no fear and did this work against the advice of the United States military forces. She was greatly loved by the local Vietnamese. The entire team was evacuated immediately prior to the final collapse of hostilities in April 1975. Margaret continued to provide generous support to the hospital for the remainder of her life.

A tireless worker, she then spent three years, mainly in Goroka, a primitive area in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. She maintained a high standard of care with basic equipment without antagonising the traditional faith healers. The conditions were unbelievably difficult, but she did not allow privation to deter her. John Biddulph at Port Moresby greatly admired her work.

From 1979 Margie spent six years in Hong Kong, caring for large numbers of refugees from Vietnam at the Argyle Camp and on Lantau Island.

In 1985 she returned to New Zealand, working at a free clinic in Wellington, giving her the opportunity to restore her health and weight! In spite of her years, from 1988 to 1989 she went to Pentecost Island in Vanuatu as a VSA volunteer, working in the villages and the jungle. She then had further contact with the Ministry of Health in New Zealand, concentrating on improving immunisation rates in children. Unfortunately her thesis for an MD on childhood anaemia was rejected, but she had some satisfaction in knowing that the Ministry of Health adopted many of her suggestions on ways to cope with this important problem.

Margaret retired to her flat in Wellington surrounded by many friends. She carried out voluntary work in her parish, as well as taking a continuing interest in the welfare of Vietnamese immigrants. Her example in paediatric care, her courage and extraordinary energy, her empathy for the local people and her strong Christian ethic was an example to all. Had it not been for Margie’s true modesty and self-effacement, she would have received the high honour that her colleagues tried to obtain for her. She died after a brief illness.

H J Weston

[Dominion Post 18 January 2007]

(Volume XII, page web)

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