Lives of the fellows

Ruggero Zuccollo

b.13 February 1947 d.10 September 2011
MB ChB Cape Town(1970) MRCP(1977) FRACP(2001) FRCP(2007)

Ruggero (‘Gerry’) Zuccollo was born in Velo D’astico a town in the province of Vicenza, Northern Italy, the youngest of three children. His father Francesco worked in a paper factory and his mother Dorina was a seamstress. The family moved to South Africa in 1955 when Ruggero was eight. He had to learn English quickly and mastered his English accent through listening to the BBC world service. Ruggero was studious, performing with distinction in his studies and also excelling in sport playing rugby and tennis at school. He saved his parents money by attaining scholarships each year to pay for his school fees.

Ruggero enrolled to study medicine at the University of Capetown at the age of 16. His parents were worried that he was too young to leave home but despite their concern he graduated successfully in 1970 with his classmate and future Wellington colleague Carl Burgess. Ruggero then worked as a house surgeon at Groote Schuur Hospital where Dr Christian Barnard, the famous cardiac transplant surgeon, often called on him to translate for his Italian patients. He moved to Port Elizabeth the following year working mostly in cardiology and there first met Jane MacDonald, who he later married. Ruggero and Jane moved on to Salisbury in England where he did rheumatology and rehabilitation attachments and then came to New Zealand to Wellington for the first time in 1977. At this time Ruggero worked as a general medicine register and first met his good friend Lindsay Haas during an attachment as his registrar in neurology. Although Ruggero was still known by his birth name at home and with his family, the colleagues and friends he worked with all knew him as ‘Gerry’.

Gerry later worked in geriatrics at Dunedin hospital and after returning to England was also a registrar in geriatrics at Nottingham Hospital. Although he had a very broad-based training as a physician, Gerry’s first love was geriatrics. After qualifying MRCP, Gerry worked first as a consultant geriatrician in Grantham from 1986. He returned to Wellington in 1993 to an appointment as a consultant geriatrician at Wellington Hospital and was admitted to the College as FRACP in 2001. He worked on the general medicine roster for a number of years but more recently had cut down his hours and stopped doing call. He was working in geriatrics and with the stroke service when he became ill.

Gerry Zuccollo was a gifted clinician and demonstrated particular skill in his chosen specialty of geriatrics. He was always completely at ease with the elderly and treated them as equals with absolutely no hint of condescension to age. Gerry took clinical skills very seriously and communication with his patients was a critical component of his skill set. He was appointed as clinical senior lecturer in the Dept of Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington from 2002 and his teaching and mentoring skills were highly regarded by medical students and junior medical staff.

Outside of work Gerry had a lifelong interest in sport playing tennis with colleagues every weekend, and following regional rugby and the All Blacks with religious fervor. Music was another interest and opera in particular. A decrease in working hours in more recent times also allowed Gerry to return to one of his early loves photography. During the short three months of his illness Gerry showed great courage in facing what was to come and put his mind to making the most of the time that was left to him. His family, friends, colleagues and patients have all been greatly saddened by his passing. Ruggero (Gerry) is survived by his wife Jane (Perinatal Pathologist) and sons James and Edward.

Dawn Elder

[Reproduced, with permission, from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ College Roll]

(Volume XII, page web)

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