Lives of the fellows

Alfred William Steinbeck

b.4 April 1920 d.12 June 2012
MB BS Sydney(1944) MD(1953) PhD Lond(1955) FRCP(1970) FRACP

Alfred William Steinbeck was professor of medicine at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Born in Sydney, he was the eldest of the three sons of Arthur Herbert Steinbeck, a civil servant, and his wife Lila Maud née Smith, the daughter of Alfred Smith. After attending North Sydney High School, he studied medicine at Sydney University on a fast track course due to the outbreak of the Second World War. Since his brother Keith had been shot down over Germany and his other brother was serving in the merchant navy, he was drafted to work in the coalfields.

Qualifying in 1944, he did house jobs at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and then, from 1946 to 1948, was a research assistant in the department of medicine at the University of Sydney. He then joined the Kanematsu Institute at the Sydney Hospital as a junior, then senior, National Health and Medical Research Council fellow and, after three years there, gained his MD in 1951.

He sailed to Britain in 1952 and, during the voyage, was called upon to operate on a case of appendicitis on a Russian seaman from a passing freighter using as an anaesthetist the only other medic on board, a psychiatrist. On arrival he joined the staff of the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in Hammersmith to continue his training in endocrinology. While in the UK he passed his PhD and obtained the MRCP, becoming a Thompson scholar at the RCP from 1954 to 1955.

On his return to Australia, after a time as senior visiting physician at the Brisbane Hospital, he became reader in medicine at the University of Queensland in 1955, introducing to his country the new endocrine steroid research technology he had learnt abroad. Six years later, in 1961, he returned to Sydney as associate professor of medicine at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). From then on, as a foundation professor, he worked hard to establish the faculty and also the clinical school at the Prince of Wales Hospital and remained there for over twenty years until his mandatory retirement in 1985.

The author of numerous papers and chapters in books on various topics in endocrinology, he also took a year’s sabbatical in 1963 to attend Cornell University in the USA as a Fulbright scholar and study with the internationally acclaimed endocrinologist, Maria New. After his retirement from the UNSW, he maintained a full time private practice as a consultant physician and endocrinologist. He also spent many years on the board of New College at UNSW and the board of Kambala School, finally retiring from these and his private practice at the age of 90 in 2010 due to increasing ill health. He had spent 66 years in the profession and could probably claim to have taught as many as 30% of the clinical practitioners in Sydney at some time or another.

He included ‘philosophical thought’ among his many interests and maintained a strong Christian faith all his life. A founder of the National Christian Medical Fellowship, he served as a lay preacher at St Michael’s Church at Vaucluse. A keen bird watcher and ornithologist, he was a member of the Royal Australian Ornithologist’s Union. He also enjoyed photography and cultivating his camellias.

In 1946 he married Shirley Jean née Armstrong, whose father, William was an engineer. Shirley was a nurse who sadly died of a brain haemorrhage in 1965, leaving him with a son and daughter. The following year he married Charmian née Bentley who was social worker and the daughter of James Waring Bentley, a manufacturer. They had two sons. Charmian survived him together with his children, Katherine, Mark (who is a surgeon), Christopher and Jonathan, and two grandsons.

RCP editor

[The Sydney Morning Herald www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/decades-spent-giving-patients-hope-20120725-22qi7.html - accessed 1 November 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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