Lives of the fellows

John Dalrymple Willis

b.3 July 1912 d.1 August 2005
MB ChB Otago(1935) MRCP(1939) MRACP(1949) FRACP(1957) FRCP(1968)

John Dalrymple Willis was born in Greatford, New Zealand. While his twin brother stayed and worked the family farm, John chose a career in medicine. He was educated at Wanganui Collegiate School before going to Otago University Medical School where he graduated in 1935, having been awarded the Fowler Scholarship two years earlier. After three years on the resident staff at Wellington Hospital he went to England and was appointed to the staff of the West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London. In 1940 he joined the RAMC 197 Field Ambulance and then spent the following 4 years during the Second World War in the RNZAMC serving in the Middle East 2 NZ Division V Field Ambulance and 1 and 2 General Hospitals where he was also the official hospital photographer. His final war service was with the 3rd Division Pacific 4 New Zealand General Hospital with the rank of major.

On returning to New Zealand he was appointed full time general physician and neurologist and also deputy medical superintendent at Palmerston North Hospital. With no specialist chest physician on the staff one of his main duties was the care of all patients with tuberculosis which was a major medical problem at that time.

Moving to part time medical practice enabled John to be recognised as a consultant physician and neurologist while still maintaining his hospital work. In 1961 he persuaded the board to send a letter to the Minister of Health advocating Palmerston North as the third neurosurgical unit in New Zealand, however this initiative failed. His interest in medicine may well have been inherited as three of his ancestors, namely Francis Willis, John Willis and Robert Willis were physicians to King George III.

Attention to detail, a keen intellect and a love of teaching were all contributing factors in John’s drive for excellence and there is no doubt that he was one of the people largely responsible for Palmerston North Hospital’s growing reputation during his time as a staff member. He was held in great respect as the senior physician of the hospital for his forward thinking and for always being willing to help his colleagues when asked for his opinion. Another interest he developed was in the care of patients in the coronary care of which he was the head for some years.

As chairman of the Palmerston North Post Graduate Medical Society, a position he held for 10 years, he was able to attract many visiting speakers with world-wide reputations. He was inspirational in developing the Palmerston North Hospital Medical Trust in 1969 which he chaired for many years. This trust assists in patient comfort and welfare and provides funds for postgraduate medical and nursing staff training and continuing education. In addition to being chairman of the Combined Medical Staff and the Manawatu Division of the New Zealand Medical Association, he served a term as chairman of the New Zealand Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

In spite of his extremely busy private practice and hospital and administrative duties, he was able to enjoy his passion for the outdoors, particularly mountaineering and yachting. Each year he would spend time trekking in the Himalayas. In preparation for these trips he could be seen training - walking with a backpack full of bricks through the bush walks and around the streets of Palmerston North City.

A keen Rotarian and at one time a president of the Palmerston North Rotary club he was made a Paul Harris fellow for his outstanding contribution to the community. In 1944, before he left the RNZAMC, he married Ruth Wilson whose father was proprietor of the New Zealand Herald. They had four daughters.

G M Kirk

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

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List