Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 25-October-2002, Vol 115 No 1164
Kevin Nicholas McNamara
Kevin McNamara was born in Auckland in 1915. His mother died when he was 12, leaving seven children. His father remarried and had a further nine children, making Kevin the oldest of 16 siblings.
Something must have motivated him towards medicine, as he persuaded his father to send him to Sacred Heart College so that he could do Latin – necessary then for entry into medical school.
He excelled as a student, matriculating at the age of 14. Proceeding later to Otago, he qualified in 1937 MB ChB aged 22, in the process being awarded the Colquohoun Prize in Medicine.
Following graduation, he commenced training in Pathology, first at Auckland Hospital and then at the North Shore Hospital in Sydney. In 1939, he volunteered for the Australian Army, but a chest X-ray revealed early TB and he was transferred to sanatorium care.
Tiring of the inactivity, he returned to New Zealand and was appointed Assistant Superintendent at Whangarei Hospital. Though not fully recovered from TB, he worked long hours there, as well as supervising a 300-bed emergency military hospital – duties made more onerous by a severe epidemic of both influenza and meningitis.
In 1943, he married Miss Gwen Boyd and moved to Greymouth as Chief Surgeon to the Greymouth Hospital. During this time, he studied for an MD, using for his thesis material gathered from meningitis cases dealt with earlier in Whangarei. This was submitted in 1945 and he obtained his MD – a somewhat unique event when followed a year later by an FRACS, and then in one further year by his English Fellowship. The study and travel for this final exam was aided by the prior award of the Gordon Craig Postgraduate Fellowship.
In 1946, Kevin McNamara was appointed surgical assistant to Sir Carrick Robertson in the public wards of the Auckland Mater Misericordiae Hospital. In 1955, he succeeded Sir Carrick as Senior Honorary Surgeon and was appointed Chairman of the Hospital Medical Executive. These public beds, together with the Nurses Training School, closed in 1945 but until then Kevin McNamara must have operated, without fee, on some thousands of cases. These, together with his private work and his Auckland Hospital duties, created a huge workload, made possible only by his extreme competence as a surgeon and the drive and stamina to allow him to cope with long hours and long lists.
He was an avid reader of surgical advances and was one of the first in the field in New Zealand in parotid, thyroid, gastric, pancreatic and colorectal surgery. All of this was accomplished with technical skill and great expertise in each field.
Kevin McNamara enjoyed teaching. He took the Auckland primary fellowship candidates on the anatomy of the salivary glands. Later, he was a clinical teacher with the Auckland Medical School. He was the Australasian College representative on the Education Committee of the NZ Medical Council and on the steering committee that led to the formation of the Southern Cross Medical Society, later serving as a Director and finally as Chairman. There he used his influence in setting up a trust to acquire and administer a series of Southern Cross Hospitals.
Kevin McNamara had interests outside surgery. New to the game of golf, he aspired to play in the forthcoming NZ Open, due to be played at his own club, Titirangi. His lay colleagues were sceptical, but without any professional help he got down to a handicap of three, and when he qualified for the Open, made more money from his friends’ bets (£100) than the professional who won the tournament.
He purchased land in South Auckland and turned it into a town-supply farm of 350 acres with a 60 000-gallon quota and the most modern milking shed in the industry.
In 1956, he joined the Auckland Racing Club. In due course, he became a Steward, then a Committee Member and was finally elected President. Again he was largely influential in the most significant expansion of the Club facilities in all its 114-year history.
In the mid 1960s, Kevin McNamara’s workload was such that he invited the author to join him in his surgical practice. He was an exemplary partner, hard working, always considerate and supportive. Later, the partnership expanded to include Mr John Allan, expert in the fields of endocrine, vascular and breast surgery. The partnership flourished, due to a great extent to Kevin McNamara’s enthusiasm and organisational skills, ending only on his retirement in 1985.
Following his retirement, Kevin spent more time with his family and the Racing Club. He wrote a personal biography and in it noted that in 1985 he suffered the worst week of his life with the loss of his wife, Gwen, and his oldest son, Brian. This left him with four daughters and two sons, 15 grandchildren and two great grandchildren who survived his death on 15 August 2002.
Finally, it must be noted that in 1980, Kevin McNamara was justly honoured with a CBE, given for his contribution to medicine and the community.
We are grateful to Dr John Gillman for this obituary notice
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