Lives of the fellows

Melville Ernest Chinner

b.17 June 1902 d.30 November 1985
MB BS Adelaide(1925) MD(1938) MRACP(1938) MRCP(1939) FRACP(1947) FRCP(1961) Hon FACP (1969)

Melville Chinner was the son of Alfred Chinner, a horticulturist, and Edith,née Batten, whose father was also a horticulturist. A combination of genetic and environmental influences undoubtedly played an important part in Melville’s many interests outside medicine. He was an expert in the growing of camellias and old-fashioned roses and president of the Orchid Club of South Australia. His interests extended beyond the floral kingdom. His garden in Adelaide abounded in beautiful blooms, but also contained aviaries where he bred many varieties of Australian finches; he was a recognized authority on these birds. His love of beautiful things embraced fine porcelain, paintings, wine and glassware. He was a true connoisseur who could converse on many subjects and shared his enjoyment and interest in diverse ideas with all who knew him. He would have made a fine, though conservative, director of an art gallery. In 1941 he married Louise Furner Blake, the daughter of a dentist, who bore him two daughters.

Despite his outside interests, his main purpose in life was dedicated to the care of the sick, to the practice of internal medicine as an excellent consultant physician, and to the teaching of undergraduate and postgraduate medicine. Yet he did not achieve the status of a member of the Board of Censors of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, possibly by reason of his early professional background.

To those who did not know him, the impression he gave on first acquaintance was misleading. A quiet and rather self-effacing manner hid a strong underlying personality with fairly fixed ideas and beliefs. Further acquaintance revealed a character of dedication and compassion. His was not the rumbustious, extrovert humour which is often associated with the Australian prototype in many walks of life, but that of an incisive mind and a dry wit. He taught in a structured manner based on logic and a deep knowledge of all branches of internal medicine. Although there was a lack of flamboyance with which to excite and stimulate the fancies of his students, those who wished to learn respected his approach and manner of teaching. Throughout his clinical life he served as a superb example to his colleagues and his juniors by his dedicated, kindly care for the sick as a complete and caring doctor. It was his habit to see things as either black or white with only occasional shades of grey, and thus he was in demand as a chairman, committee member, and adjudicator in many areas of medical politics and even outside his professional sphere. He was a true conservative whose emotions only became really aroused when discussing left wing politicians, bureaucrats or big government. Nevertheless, he was usually able to supress these feelings and communicate amicably with those who held opposing views. Only rarely did his beliefs interfere with his deep sense of justice. He believed strongly in the future of his country, of which he was extremely proud. A considerable competence in many areas of active sport in his earlier years was continued with an above average excellence in golf as the years advanced.

Chinner’s secondary schooling was at St Peter’s College, Adelaide, followed by undergraduate medical training at the University of Adelaide and the Royal Adelaide Hospital. After graduation he entered general practice but his ambition was to become a physician. As with many physicians of his generation, apprenticeship in general practice gave him a deep understanding of the problems of his patients and his general practitioner colleagues. Consultant status was achieved in 1938, followed by a year or postgraduate training in London. The war of 1939-1945 interrupted his consultant career and he served as a physician medical officer with the Australian Imperial Forces in New Guinea and the Pacific zones. With the cessation of hostilities he entered private consultant practice in Adelaide and served firstly as an honorary physician to the Adelaide Children’s Hospital and then for 20 years as honorary physician to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, until his retirement at the age of 65 years. His breadth of knowledge in all areas of internal medicine ensured his success in private practice, and recognition as a teacher. He was devoted to the interests and careers of many of his younger colleagues and did much to support their aspirations.

Despite the heavy demands on his time, he was able to serve his profession and the community in a wide variety of other responsibilities. He was president of the South Australian branch of the British Medical Association (as it was in those years) in 1956 and 1957, and chairman of the Medical Staff Society of the Royal Adelaide Hospital, as well as being a member of many committees associated with both these bodies. However, his abiding love was for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians; service as a member of Council,from 1957 to 1968, culminated in his election as president in 1969 and 1970.

Men of lesser commitment might then have called it a day, but Chinner continued a lifetime of dedicated service. A member of the Medical Board of South Australia, he was its president from 1971 until 1975. He was holding office when a severe left-sided stroke ended his active career. His intellect remained unimpaired, but he was obliged to depend on others and this depressed him. He forced himself to develop new interests and bore the limitations in his life with fortitude. The many friends who visited him found him a continuing source of stimulation. His depth of experience and wisdom was invaluable to those who sought his advice in the remaining 10 years of his life. The sudden death of his wife was a loss from which he never really recovered. Those close to him knew that he would have welcomed the end when it occurred several years later.

Melville Chinner was a man of integrity whose life was largely devoted to the service and interests of others. A respect for his fellow beings and a love of fine things ensured a full and complete life, as well as many happy memories for his friends and colleagues both in Australia and overseas.

A Kerr Grant
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme

[RACP College Newsletter, Feb 1969,2(3),3]

(Volume VIII, page 84)

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