Lives of the fellows

Kenneth Alfred Kingsley North

b.19 August 1930 d.22 January 2015
BMedSci Otago MB ChB(1954) DPhil Oxon(1957) FRACP(1964) FRCP(1973)

Kenneth Alfred Kingsley North was a consultant physician and endocrinologist at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading. He was born in Hawera, New Zealand, the son of Alfred Kingsley North, president of the New Zealand Court of Appeal, and Thelma Grace North née Dawson. He was educated at King’s College, Auckland, and then studied medicine at Otago University, where he was a keen sportsman and president of the students’ union. He also worked with Sir John Eccles, the Nobel laureate, to obtain his BMedSci degree. He qualified MB ChB in 1954.

He then went to the UK, to Oxford, on a Rhodes scholarship, studied under Sir Howard Florey [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.178] and obtained an athletics blue. He spent eight years in the UK, at the Radcliffe Infirmary and later at Hammersmith Hospital.

In 1962 he returned to New Zealand to take up the appointment of medical tutor and later consultant physician and director of the medical unit at Wellington Hospital. When the New Zealand government would not accept his report advocating a full medical school at Wellington, he returned to the UK in 1972 with a wife, four children and no secure job.

His first post was as a locum registrar at Hampstead General Hospital. He quickly obtained a consultant appointment as a physician and endocrinologist at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, where he made his name as a friendly, skilled and accessible opinion. He firmly established the weekly medical grand round and was one of the first district general hospital consultants to be made an MRCP examiner. Ken was outstandingly supportive of his colleagues and juniors.

He was a wise and much used counsellor by senior and junior colleagues who respected his opinion. Although always tactful, he didn’t suffer fools gladly and would offer acerbic comments regarding some of those he came across, always made in good humour.

Ken enjoyed travel, reading and gardening. His love of horticulture led him to retire early in 1986 to farm a small holding in north Devon, where he delighted in mixing in with the local community, who were by and large not wealthy farmers. One of the first things he did on arriving was to sell his not very smart car for one very much older and more decrepit, so as to fit in.

Before leaving Reading he gave a memorable leaving party for his close colleagues, with one of whom he shared an interest in wine. He organised a blind tasting of the best of his cellar, covering the labels, but not too carefully. History does not relate whether the loser, a self-confessed wine expert, ever found out that the original labels had been carefully soaked off and swapped around the bottles before being covered.

Although a few of his colleagues visited him in Devon, retirement was for Ken a quite new beginning. His early retirement was a considerable loss to the medical community.

In 1999 his family drew him back to Nelson, New Zealand. It seems that he missed little of the UK, but returned twice and caught up with a couple of his former colleagues. In Nelson he farmed in a small way and delighted in having his family near. It was only in the last 18 months of his life that intellectual deterioration and memory loss set in, leading to a diagnosis of dementia and his rapid decline and death. He was survived by his wife, Katharine Joan (née Baggaley), whom he met in Oxford and married in 1958, four children, John, Michael, Andrew and Jenney, and nine grandchildren.

John Bell

[BMJ 2015 350 2455 – accessed 28 May 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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