Lives of the fellows

Leo Gordon Hannah

b.30 May 1913 d.15 March 2002
MB ChB NZ(1936) MRCP(1946) MRACP(1953) FRACP(1962) FRCP(1977)

Leo Hannah was a committed and highly respected physician who, apart from training years in England and War Service in the Middle East, spent his professional life in the service of the people of Nelson.

He was born at Stratford in 1913, one of two sons of J G R Hannah, a civil servant, and Agnes Malone, from a farming background. The family moved to Napier in 1917 where he was educated. He had a distinguished career at Napier Boys High School where he was a prefect, was in the rugby first fifteen, won the Ashcroft Cup and Gold Medal for all round excellence and gained a University National Scholarship.

He entered the Otago Medical School in 1931 and graduated MB ChB in 1936. The house physician years followed in Wellington Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital for Women and Children, Plaistow, London. With the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a Medical Officer in the rank of Lieutenant. Impatient with his role in the UK, he volunteered for service in the Middle East where he was posted with the rank of Captain to the 1st Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. He was later RMO of the 81st Field Regiment RA and in the 149 Field Ambulance RAMC. He saw action in the Western Desert and was injured and briefly hospitalised. After three years he returned to England where he was promoted to the rank of Major in a Welsh Division and took part in the invasion of France. His brother Jack, a pilot in the RNZAF, was killed flying a Mosquito bomber in October 1943 and is buried in Antwerp.

After the war Leo returned to London, worked in the West Middlesex County Hospital, and completed the examination for Membership of the Royal College of Physicians of London. He returned to New Zealand to set up medical practice in Richmond in 1947 in partnership with friends, a surgeon and a general practitioner. In 1948 he married Mary Mitchell who was his receptionist and they had three sons and a daughter.

In 1955 he established a specialist practice in general medicine in Nelson and continued his appointment as Senior Visiting Physician to Nelson Hospital. He gained Membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians by examination in 1953 and was awarded Fellowship in 1962. His practise of medicine was marked by his commitment to service to his patients and to the hospital and his unfailing courtesy and compassion. He was a highly principled man with a strong sense of duty and great moral strength.

He was a regular contributor to the Nelson Clinical Society meetings where his presentations were cogent and well received. He published case reports in the New Zealand Medical Journal and would have followed a more academic path if the service demands of his practice had allowed. He read widely and remained well informed medically even following his retirement in 1980.

Leo lost his beloved wife, Mary, to cancer in 1991 and with the support of his family and friends lived alone until the last few months of his life. He had a strong religious faith. Having initially been brought up as a Roman Catholic, he converted to the Anglican Church in his university years and was a regular attender at the Nelson Cathedral Sunday services. His intellect was preserved until the last and he died, after a brief decline, of cardio-respiratory failure. That the Cathedral was full at his funeral service though many years after he ceased practise attests to the high regard with which he was held by friends, colleagues and patients.

He was survived by his sons, John, Donald and Stephen, his daughter, Rosemary, and seven grandchildren.

A R Kirk

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

(Volume XII, page web)

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