Lives of the fellows

Philip John (Sir) Scott

b 22 June 1931 d 20 October 2015 KBE(1988) BMedSci Otago(1952) MB ChB Otago(1955) MRACP(1959) MRCP(1960) MD Birm(1962) FRACP(1966) FRCP(1975)

Sir John Scott, professor of medicine at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, was an outstanding academic physician who made major contributions to medicine both in Auckland and nationally.

John Scott was born in Auckland, the son of Horace McDonald Scott and Doris Anne Scott (née Ruddock), both of whom had studied at Canterbury College and graduated master of arts with honours from the University of New Zealand. Horace attained honours in mathematics and Doris in English.

Horace Scott was a secondary school teacher and the family moved to Palmerston North when John was six years old. He attended Palmerston North Boys’ High School and then Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland. He was not allowed to play contact sports at school because he had lost his right eye in an accident when he was three years old. He excelled in swimming, however, which balanced his non-involvement in contact sports. He studied languages at school until his final year (1948), when he switched to science and, despite the change in subjects, won a national scholarship to the University of New Zealand. John was the top student in the medical intermediate course at Auckland University College in 1949 and he then proceeded to study medicine at the University of Otago in Dunedin. He attained an intercalated bachelor of medical science degree in physiology in 1952 and graduated MB ChB in 1955 with distinctions in physiology, bacteriology and public health.

Following graduation, John worked as a house officer and then a medical registrar in the institutions of the Auckland Hospital Board from 1956 to 1958. He attained membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians early in 1959 and had six months experience in a general practice in Auckland before travelling to London by cargo ship (the Port Vindex) with his wife, Elizabeth, and two children. John was the ship’s doctor, having signed on for the voyage for one shilling for the trip. He studied at the Postgraduate Medical School of London at Hammersmith Hospital for three months at the end of 1959 and was then a house physician in the department of medicine from January to July 1960. While there, he passed the examination for membership of the Royal College of Physicians.

John then spent two years in Birmingham as a medical registrar at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital with an appointment as a research fellow within the department of experimental pathology in the medical school, University of Birmingham. He engaged in research in the field of protein metabolism under John Squire [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.412] and Philip Gill and gained an MD from the University of Birmingham. The title of his thesis was ‘Studies on serum beta lipoproteins in health and disease’.

Towards the end of his time in Birmingham, when John was contemplating his next career move, he received a telephone call in the middle of the night from Sir Douglas Robb [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.391], a prominent Auckland surgeon and the then chancellor of the University of Auckland. The conversation as subsequently narrated by John was as follows: ‘“Is that you Scott?” “Yes sir”. I immediately recognised the voice of Sir Douglas Robb. “Come home boy, we are starting a medical school in Auckland and we want some of you chaps to come home.” So that’s how I came back to Auckland.’

John returned to Auckland Hospital in November 1962. He held the second Isaacs Memorial research fellowship in the academic medical unit at Auckland Hospital, which was headed by J D K North. John played a central role in the development of the medical unit and the University of Auckland department of medicine which grew from it when North was appointed foundation professor of medicine and head of the department of medicine in the newly-established medical school in Auckland in 1968. John held a series of research fellowships with concurrent appointments as a consultant physician at Auckland Hospital until his formal appointment as associate professor in the department of medicine at the University of Auckland in 1973.

John’s research was based on experience that he had gained in Birmingham and centred around testing hypotheses concerning the source of lipid accumulation in atheromatous plaques in arteries. He also studied arterial pathophysiology and undertook clinical studies. He published extensively and many of his 104 publications in peer-reviewed journals relate to his work on low-density lipoproteins.

John became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1975 and he was awarded a personal chair as professor of medicine in the University of Auckland School of Medicine in the same year. He was head of the department of medicine from 1979 to 1987 and at the end of that period, with typical dedication and sense of service, he forwent other opportunities in order to move to Middlemore Hospital in south Auckland with the expressed intent of promoting the development of academic medicine. Middlemore Hospital serves an ethnically diverse population, many of whom are relatively poor. John was professor of medicine at Middlemore from 1988 to 1997 and head of the academic unit, then head of the south Auckland division, school of medicine, Middlemore Hospital from 1994 to 1997.

John's commitments extended well beyond the hospitals and the medical school and continued into his ‘retirement’. He was a founding member of the Auckland Medical History Society and served as president in 1976. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1987 and served as president from 1997 to 2000. He was a member of the New Zealand Medical Association from 1956 and served as president from 1998 to 1999. He was overseas adviser for New Zealand for the Royal College of Physicians from 1989 to 2001. He was active in medical-legal issues and chair of the New Zealand advisory panel of the Medical Protection Society (London) from 1993 to 2009, and vice president for New Zealand from 2000 to 2009. He was also a member of the council of the Family Planning Association of New Zealand (from 1997 to 2007) and vice president from 2004 to 2007.

John contributed to several major national reports in New Zealand and in particular he was one of three consultants to the Hospital and Related Services Taskforce, which produced a landmark report Unshackling the hospitals: report of the Hospital and Related Services Taskforce (Wellington, New Zealand), known as the Gibbs report, in 1988.

John was also deeply involved in the unmasking of a charlatan, a refugee from Czechoslovakia, who was practising as a cancer therapist at Auckland Hospital in the 1970s. Following a ministerial inquiry into the matter in 1974, John was appointed as the official agent of the Medical Council of New Zealand to travel ‘behind the Iron Curtain’ to Czechoslovakia on two occasions to obtain information on the background of the refugee. These were demanding and at times dangerous missions. It turned out that the refugee had been in prison for robbery with violence at the time that he alleged that he had been at medical school in Czechoslovakia. The legal situation was, however, complex and John remained heavily involved in the matter as the charlatan continued to practise as a cancer therapist and skipped from New Zealand to the Cook Islands and then to the United States, where he was finally arrested, convicted of grand fraud and practising medicine without a license, and imprisoned. John’s steadfastness and courage during the saga over several years says a great deal about his integrity and strength of character.

John was appointed a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to medicine in 1988. Among his many other awards and appointments, he was a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and in 1992 received the College medal for his outstanding contribution to medicine and the College. He was awarded life membership of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medical Education in 1996 and made a fellow of the New Zealand Medical Association in 2005.

Despite the breadth and depth of John’s involvement in medical matters over his professional lifetime, he was fundamentally a family man. He married his first wife, Elizabeth (née MacMillan), in 1956 during his first year as a house surgeon. They had four children (Michael, Janet, Jenny and Philippa) and John cherished their family time at home in Meadowbank, Auckland and at their beach cottage in Northland. Elizabeth died in 2002 and John married Margaret (née Wann, née McGinn) in 2003. Margaret died in 2007 and John married Alison (née Roberton, née Battley) in 2011. John was survived by Lady Alison Scott, his four children and seven grandchildren.

John Buchanan

[The University of Auckland Medical and Health Sciences Obituary for Emeritus Professor Sir John Scott KBE FRSNZ – accessed 23 December 2016; The Royal Australasian College of Physicians College Roll: Scott, Sir (Philip) John – accessed 23 December 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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