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Biographical entry O'Donoghue, Patrick Desmond (1922 - 2004)

MRCS and FRCS 1952; BM, BCh Otago 1948; LRCP 1952.

12 May 1922
Kaiapoi, New Zealand
22 December 2004
Cooma, Australia
General surgeon


Patrick Desmond O’Donoghue was a surgeon in Kenya. He was born in Kaiapoi, New Zealand, on 12 May 1922, the second son of Michael and Eva O’Donoghue. His father was a teacher and later schools inspector. Pat attended Christchurch Boys’ High School, where he excelled in classics, sciences, literature, languages and sport, particularly cricket and rugby. He went on to study medicine at the University of Otago.

After two years resident house jobs in Christchurch, he sailed to England as a ship’s doctor to specialise in surgery. He did a number of junior posts, including one at the Seamen’s Hospital, Greenwich, and then became a registrar to Sir Cecil Wakeley at King’s College Hospital. There he met Brenda Davies, an anaesthetics registrar at King’s, and they were married in 1952. He went on to be a surgical registrar to Neville Stidolph at the Whittington Hospital for two years, gaining extensive experience in urology, before going on to be RSO at St Paul’s under Winsbury-White, Howard Hanley and David Innes Williams. This was followed by six months at the Brompton Hospital under Price Thomas and Drew, who, in 1955, supported him with enthusiasm when he considered applying for a vacancy at St Mary’s. However, at the same time a vacancy came up in Nairobi, for which he opted after much deliberation.

His first appointment there was as a locum for Sir Michael Wood with the East African Flying Doctor Association, which cemented his love for the country and its people. From this he went on to become a partner in the Nairobi Clinic, where he rapidly developed an outstanding reputation. He developed free outreach clinics for the Flying Doctor Service, covering remote areas of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, where surgery was often difficult and performed under the most basic conditions. He described operating in Tanzania where the humidity was so great that the door of the room had to be kept open, despite the many onlookers. There were times when the throng of patients delayed the departure of the flying doctor and when the runway lights were switched off at the small airport in Nairobi they had to land unannounced at the international airport, pursued by a comet of which they were unaware, which landed close behind them.

Pat was also chief of surgery at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, doing pro bono surgery for missionaries and many others. Although he specialised in urology, he remained a very general surgeon, dealing with injuries caused by leopards, buffaloes, rhinos and elephants. People were flown in with spear injuries from intertribal battles and he also treated casualties from the ANC bombing of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi. Occasionally he was asked to escort patients back to their homes in other countries, including a cardinal who needed to be taken back to Rome, where Pat had an audience with Pope John XXIII.

In 1968 he became President of the East African Association of Surgeons, and was instrumental in setting up the equivalent of a coroner’s court, essential to protect both surgeons and patients in the ever-increasing world of litigation, a move which was approved by the Attorney General in 1969.

Among his many interests were golf, which he continued to play until he could no longer walk round the course (he scorned the use of buggies), the classics and poetry. He would often quote from Virgil, Keats, Yeats, Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas. His strong Christian faith and his quiet sense of humour remained until the day he died.

Pat and Brenda raised their four daughters (Gillian, Jenny, Geraldine and Hilary) in Nairobi until Brenda died in 2002 whilst on holiday in England. He spent only one more year in Kenya before moving to be with his daughter Hilary in Cooma, Australia. He died on 22 December 2004.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Hilary Keighley.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England