Lives of the fellows

Henry Jeffray Weston

b.9 September 1926 d.12 February 2010
MB ChB NZ(1950) MRCP(1956) DCH(1957) MRACP(1960) FRACP(1967) FRCP(1974) BSc(1995)

Henry Jeffray Weston, known to his family and friends as ‘Jeff’, was foundation professor of paediatrics and child health at Wellington School of Medicine, University of Otago, New Zealand. He was essentially a ‘hands-on’ clinician who taught by example, demanding the highest standards of himself and of his junior staff and students. Perhaps his greatest achievement, in the face of formidable resistance, was to ensure that the ageing King Edward VII Memorial Children’s Hospital, long condemned as unsafe, was replaced by a new paediatric unit in Wellington Hospital.

Jeff was born in New Plymouth, New Zealand, where his father, Walter Crowley Weston, was proprietor of the Taranaki Herald, which had been in the Weston family for more than a century. His mother was Constance Lilian Steuart, the daughter of a farmer. He was educated at New Plymouth Boys’ High School and then studied medicine at the University of Otago Medical School. After completing his final clinical year at Wellington Hospital, he graduated in 1950. In 1955, following resident appointments at Wellington Hospital, he went to London and held house physician posts at both Hammersmith and Brompton hospitals – traditional training grounds for Commonwealth postgraduates working for the MRCP, at that time essential for paediatric trainees.

He had already set his sights on a career in paediatrics and, in 1956, he obtained posts as house physician, then registrar, under the Dick Bonham-Carter [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.41] in the cardio-respiratory unit at Great Ormond Street. After two more years as a resident assistant physician, in 1960 he sailed back to New Zealand as a medical officer on a cargo ship. He was initially appointed as a part-time consultant paediatrician at Hutt Hospital, north of Wellington, and established a paediatric practice in the city. He also gained honorary consultant appointments at Karitane and the Home of Compassion hospitals.

In 1962 he became a consultant paediatrician to Wellington Hospital, and in 1975 was honoured by his appointment as the first professor of paediatrics and child health at the Wellington School of Medicine. During his 17 years’ tenure, in addition to routine academic commitments, he worked tirelessly to create a new paediatric department to replace the 1912 children’s hospital. His scheme included parents’ accommodation and this brought him into conflict with his adult counterparts, as well as the Health Minister, who perceived paediatrics as merely the treatment of sick children, ignoring the importance of family welfare. However, his dogged determination ultimately prevailed, and the new unit was formally opened in 1988.

Despite his onerous work schedule he served for six years as chairman of the specialist advisory committee in paediatrics of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and was elected president of the Paediatric Society of New Zealand in 1978. He also continued to serve part-time in the Royal New Zealand Medical Corps, rising to the rank of colonel and becoming an honorary aide-de-camp to the Governor General, Bernard Fergusson, in 1969. He represented his country at a WHO conference in Manila in 1978 and led an official paediatric delegation to the People’s Republic of China in 1981.

Jeff was a humble man, immensely popular with both senior and junior colleagues. As a resident assistant physician at Great Ormond Street he had responsibility for a 10-bed gastroenteritis unit, under the late Bernard Schlesinger [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.441], and he was often seen ‘rescuing’ a hapless house physician struggling to insert a needle into a dehydrated infant’s scalp vein, but without ever a hint of humiliation. He was a disciplinarian, for whom unpunctuality was anathema. He was deeply concerned by the prevalence of child abuse and neglect, and the willingness of society to turn a blind eye to it. Even as a registrar he flagged up his anger by refusing to sign a death certificate for a child whose death was unexplained – an act vindicated by an autopsy, which revealed fractured ribs and a head injury.

In his retirement, true to his nature, Jeff continued to teach medical students part-time, and was the New Zealand adviser in paediatrics to the Medical Protection Society. He continued gardening and playing golf, for which he had earned a university blue. He took up watercolour painting as well as the study of geology, proudly obtaining a BSc in 1995.

Above all, Jeff was a family man. He and his wife Patricia Ann née Coates, known as ‘Ann’, a consultant anaesthetist, gave hospitality without ostentation and with heartfelt welcome. They had three daughters (Margaret Ann, Elizabeth Catherine and Patricia Steuart) and a son (Henry Charles). They were devastated by the tragic loss of two of their daughters in 1994 – the first (Elizabeth – ‘Liz’) following a prolonged bout of depression and the second (Patricia – ‘Trish’) from a diving accident. Sadly Jeff developed prostatic carcinoma, complicated by bony secondaries. He bore the unrelenting pain of his final illness with fortitude, supported by his family and cared for with total devotion by Ann, who survived him, together with their remaining daughter and son, and seven grandchildren.

Richard H R White

[Brit.med.J. 2010 341 3596; The New Zealand Medical Journal 24 Sept 2010, Vol. 123, No.1323 http://journal.nzma.org.nz/journal/123-1323/4367/ – accessed 14 February 2012]

(Volume XII, page web)

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