Lives of the fellows

Peter James Parsons

b.5 October 1913 d.12 November 2007
BSc Melbourne(1937) MB BS(1938) MRACP(1947) MD(1948) MRCP(1949) FRACP(1954) FRCP(1969)

Peter Parsons, a pioneer in the field of gastroenterology died at the age of 94 from pneumonia at a nursing home in Kew.

He was born in Melbourne and spent his early life at Wilgul, a property on the Colac-Cressy Road, near Beeac. His father married Lena (née Robertson) in 1908, and their six children were educated at home by a governess. After his father’s death in 1926, the family moved to Newtown, Geelong, where his mother, with the help of his eldest sister, Janet, raised and educated the family.

Peter Parsons later attended Geelong Grammar School at Corio which school had a profound influence on his life. In 1932 he enrolled in medicine at the University of Melbourne, graduating with a BSc in 1937 and MB BS in 1938.

From 1939 to 1940, he was a resident medical officer at the old Royal Melbourne Hospital in Lonsdale Street. In June 1940 he enlisted in the AIF, joining the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps and was posted to 1st Corps Petrol Park at Puckapunyal. He went to the Middle East where he served in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.

In 1942 his unit was dispatched to the Far East in convoy bound for Batavia. However, after learning of the fall of Singapore, the convoy turned around and steamed back to Colombo. In September 1942 he was seconded as physiologist to the chemical warfare unit to study the effects of mustard gas on troops in the tropics. In December 1943, he joined the 2/2 Field Ambulance attached to 17 Brigade, 6th Division. Following training on the Atherton Tablelands they landed at Aitape, New Guinea in 1944. He took part in the Aitape-Wewak campaign around Maprik and the Torricelli Mountains with the 2/7th Battalion, culminating in the surrender of General Adachi and the Japanese 18th Army.

In 1946, discharged from the army and without a job, he met Dr Ian Wood [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.548]. Wood had recently been appointed to head the clinical research unit at the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He offered Peter the registrar post at the research unit, where he became Wyeth Research Fellow from 1946 to 1948. Peter obtained his membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1947 and his MD from Melbourne University in 1948.

In 1948 he travelled to London, where he became medical registrar in the newly created department of gastroenterology at Central Middlesex Hospital under the direction of Dr (later Sir) Avery Jones [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web]. Their lifelong friendship afforded Australians the inside running for the registrar’s post at Central Middlesex, with Avery Jones training a large percentage of Australian gastroenterologists.

Following his return to Melbourne in 1949, Peter was appointed honorary physician to The Alfred Hospital and was involved with the introduction of this new sub-specialty of gastroenterology to the Alfred Hospital. In 1950 he was acting assistant director of the clinical research unit, Baker Medical Research Institute, and the following year he was appointed visiting physician (gastroenterology) to the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg.

Concurrently, he was developing a successful private practice in Spring Street. In the early 1960s he relocated his practice alongside Epworth Hospital, Richmond. He became so involved with Epworth that he was made a life governor. He was also a visiting physician to Bethesda, St Andrew's, the Freemasons and Cabrini Hospitals.

Peter was elected president of the Gastroenterological Society of Australia from 1965 to 1967 and was a key figure at the 3rd Asian Pacific Congress of Gastroenterology that was held in Melbourne in 1968. In addition, he was chairman of staff at The Alfred from 1970 to 1971, vice-president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians from 1976 to 1978, chief medical officer for Scottish Amicable Life Assurance Society from 1960 to 1989, and a member of the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal (later Repatriation Review Tribunal) from 1951 to 1979. He was also a member of the Australian Medical Association state council and was made a fellow of the Association.

Peter, who devoted his life to medicine, was an extraordinarily good clinician and teacher and a mentor to scores of young physicians. He was a man with broad experience and knowledge and a formidable memory. He was also a humble man.

In 1953, he married Jeanette Randell, to whom he remained devoted until her death in 1992. He is survived by his daughter, Deborah; son, Andrew; and grandsons, Charlie and George. His son Jim predeceased him.

G Metz
A Parsons

[Adapted from The Age February 23 2008 with permission; Reproduced, with permission, from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ College Roll]

(Volume XII, page web)

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