Lives of the fellows

Robin Mackenzie Norris

b.9 March 1931 d.20 September 2015
MB ChB Otago(1955) MRCP(1960) MD Birm(1965) MRACP(1966) FRACP(1972) FRCP(1977)

Robin Norris was physician in charge of the coronary care unit at Green Lane Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand. He was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. His father, Alan John Norris, was a commander in the Royal Navy and was stationed overseas for long periods. His mother’s name was Molly.

At the age of six, Robin went to New Zealand, where his father had been transferred, and attended boarding school at Hereworth in Havelock North. When he was 10 he suffered a ruptured appendix, which became complicated by septicaemia and gross septic arthritis in his hips and knees. Consequently, he became markedly disabled and, at the age of 17, he was taken by his father to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he had surgery to try to increase his mobility. The surgery, undertaken by Marius Smith-Petersen, did result in some improvement, but for the rest of his life Robin’s mobility was severely impaired and he always required two walking sticks.

After prolonged convalescence in Boston, Robin returned to New Zealand and continued his school education in Auckland, before gaining entry to Otago University Medical School. He obtained his MB ChB in 1955.

After junior medical appointments at Auckland Hospital, he travelled to the UK, where he obtained his MRCP in 1960 and an MD from Birmingham University in 1965. In 1963, in Birmingham, he met and married Iris (née Wheatley), a nurse.

In 1965 they went to New Zealand, and Robin took up a medical specialist post at Green Lane Hospital, Auckland. In 1970 he was appointed physician in charge of the newly-established coronary care unit (CCU), the first such specialised facility to be established in New Zealand. Robin quickly became involved in various research projects related to acute cardiac care, which continued as a passionate interest almost up until his death. In the development of this CCU, Robin worked in close collaboration with Lawrence Reynolds, who was a general physician with a particular interest in acute cardiac care.

Robin returned to the UK in 1992 when he took up an appointment as an honorary cardiologist at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, where he worked on the UK Myocardial Infarction National Audit Project for 11 years.

Robin was very interested in the teaching of coronary care nurses and, in collaboration with others, he set up a training course. He was also recognised for his success in teaching medical registrars and for encouraging them to participate in research.

Robin became involved in a number of international studies, mostly related to the use of beta blocker drugs. He published over 200 original articles and wrote a book, Myocardial Infarction; its presentation, pathogenesis and treatment (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1982).

Robin was for a time the New Zealand representative of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand. He became a life member and fellow of the Society in 2004.

Robin’s personality shone with determination and he was not easily dissuaded from any of his beliefs or concerns. He was a devoted Christian and regularly attended his local Anglican church, where he participated in various projects.

In 2003 Robin and his wife returned to New Zealand to retire, but he continued to be involved in several studies related to early recognition and treatment of myocardial infarction. Sadly, Iris became disabled by a form of lupus, and Robin continued to care for her at home until her death in 2009. Robin’s passionate devotion to the care of Iris was remarkable and exemplified his genuine lifelong concern for his patients.

Robin died at his home in Auckland after a life full of achievement, courage and determination, despite his severe long-standing physical impairments. He was survived by his two sons, Andrew and Richard, and his five grandchildren, Cordelia, Honor, Callum, Danielle and Vivien.

Kevin O’Brien

[The New Zealand Medical Journal 128.1427 (Dec 18, 2015):75-77 – accessed 1 February 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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