Lives of the fellows

James Kenneth Laing

b.4 December 1921 d.18 January 2011
MB ChB(1947) MRCP(1951) FRCP(1974) FRACP

James Kenneth Laing was born in Roxburgh to Henry Laing, a schoolteacher, and Mabel Wilhelmina Carey daughter of a coachbuilder. He was a lean, fair-haired man keen on the outdoors, the natural sciences, history and gardening. A pupil at Otago Boy’s High School, he was dux in 1939, gaining a junior university scholarship in the same year.

He was awarded MB ChB in 1947. Whilst at University he served in the Otago University Medical Corps from 1941 to 1943 and was a member of the OU 'A' hockey team. He worked in Dunedin Hospital1947-8 and in New Plymouth hospital in 1949, where he met up again with his future wife Judith Annie Fyson whom he had first met in Dunedin. She was a dietitian and daughter of a public accountant in Hawera. They went to London in 1950 where he worked at St Charles Hospital and gained MRCP in 1951. He returned to Christchurch in 1953. Between 1954 and 1965 he was visiting physician at Oamaru Hospital and was thereafter appointed as a physician in rheumatology and neurology at Christchurch Hospital. Always maintaining a strong interest in general medicine, he at the same time developed rheumatology as a specialty in which he was later joined by Julian Kirk, Peter Moller and Barrie Tait. He was chairman of the New Zealand Rheumatology Association 1978-80, chairman of the Canterbury Association of Physicians, and a member of the grants advisory committee of the RACP 1972- 84 prior to retirement in 1986.

He was a committed teacher of registrars and final year students. With the advent of the School of Medicine he was involved with general medicine teaching to undergraduates and then with more focused teaching in rheumatology. As part of this programme, students were taken to see patients in four different medical centres in the city.

His publications were diverse including bacterial endarteritis, pseudohypoparathyroidism, a history of the New Zealand Rheumatism Association, an account of the development of medical health services in the New Hebrides and Vanuatu and the development of the Leprosy Trust Board. He also wrote diaries and published a number of personal recollections.

He was strongly committed to his family of two daughters and three sons and 16 grandchildren and some of his work in the western Pacific was an expression of that support. He was also an elder in his Church and in 1961-2 chairman of the Oamaru branch of the National Council of Churches. His parish church is endowed with three paintings by his wife Judith, an accomplished artist, whose works are found in the homes of colleagues and friends. He was a keen musician, a clarinetist and then a flautist with the Canterbury Philharmonia. In his retirement he continued this interest with a chamber music group. Ken always had pacifist views and was a long time member of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

Ken Laing was above all a man of principle. He was modest and retiring despite his many achievements. In his clinical work and teaching he was thoroughly reliable. In areas of difficulty or contention his opinion was always sound and reasonable. The humility of his outlook is perhaps best expressed in his own words in a commissioned self-portrait. ‘I have always felt myself a part of the land beneath and from which I sprang. Blocks of upthrust mica schist eroded to form the hills of Central Otago and from their tussock grasslands I took my form .... My life as a physician ... is a life of work which does not stale because it involves me closely with people no two of them the same. Nor is it a static art, rather an expanding and ever-changing science probing the very origins of life and matter. The natural sciences, my love of gardening, of music and of books assure me there is always yet something more to do or know.’

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

(Volume XII, page web)

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