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Biographical entry Urquhart-Hay, Donald (1929 - 2011)

MB ChB New Zealand 1954; MRCS and FRCS 1960; FRACS 1967.

24 May 1929
Christchurch, New Zealand
13 August 2011
Wellington, New Zealand
Urological surgeon


Donald Urquhart-Hay was a well-known New Zealand urologist who enjoyed an enviable worldwide reputation. He had an excellent postgraduate training in the United Kingdom, mainly in London and organised by the Institute of Urology, and pioneered renal transplantation in Wellington, New Zealand. When serving in the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer as a commander, one of his many outside commitments was as an aide-de-camp to Sir (later Lord) Arthur Porritt when he was governor-general of New Zealand from 1967.

Donald was born in Christchurch on 24 May 1929, the son of Walter Hay, a manager in the local Bank of New Zealand. He was named after Donald Urquhart, a captain who served with the New Zealand Shipping Company. His mother was Beryl Eunice née Robertson, the daughter of a draper. The family lived in Eltham in the province of Taranaki, and Donald was educated at Stratford High School, after primary schooling in Eltham. In addition to a good academic record, he developed a natural aptitude for woodwork and painting, and a lifetime interest in clocks.

Graduating from University in 1954, he spent two years of house appointments in Auckland. Being drawn to surgery, he decided to travel to the UK and first spent 18 months training in orthopaedics, before taking on a busy post in general surgery with some urology at Southend General Hospital.

Sir Eric Riches encouraged Donald to think seriously about the developing specialty of urology for his future career in surgery. Fortuitously, the Institute of Urology was developing a three-year training programme, based first at St Paul's Hospital, Endell Street, and rotating through the Royal Marsden and the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. Working with Sir David Innes Williams, John Blandy and Richard Turner-Warwick, he had a good grounding for any surgeon wishing to specialise in urology. They emphasised to him the need for good basic research, as well as the necessity of well-organised training programmes. This was at the time when urology was developing as a specialty and separating from general surgery. Donald was influenced by many other urologists in the UK, including J D Ferguson, Howard Hanley and David Wallace.

Donald then went to work with James Dempster, who nurtured his interest in renal transplantation. He met Geoffrey Chisholm, another New Zealand-born surgeon, who was at first senior registrar to Ralph Shackman at Hammersmith Hospital and the Postgraduate Medical School, and was then appointed to the consultant staff. Geoffrey was doing work in the field of organ preservation and transplantation. Urquhart-Hay's early research was on greyhounds, ideal for his research as they were 'obedient, thin and never barked!' All this work was made possible at the Hammersmith because of the existing renal dialysis programme set up by Eddie Kulatilake.

Returning to New Zealand in 1966, Urquhart-Hay obtained a post as an admitting and outpatient medical officer at Wellington Hospital and, from 1967 to 1994, was visiting urologist to the hospital. He continued his research work on renal transplantation at Wallaceville Research Unit and performed the first human transplant in New Zealand at Wellington Hospital on 2 April 1969 (1). During this period, from 1966 to 1971, he also acted as medical officer to the clinic for sexually transmitted diseases.

Following his baptism into urology, he pursued this specialty relentlessly as it split from its general surgical roots, and worked hard for its advancement in New Zealand. He was an ardent supporter of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, for whom he was an examiner over many years. He was unwavering in his support of the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand, and designed and commissioned the Society's crest and its motto - Juncta ad aquam (joined across the water). Publications were numerous and included 'Comparison of epidural and hypotensive anaesthesia in open prostatectomy' (N Z Med J. 1969 May;69[444]:281-7), 'Voluntary sterilisation in the male'. (N Z Med J. 1970 Apr;71[455]:230-2) and papers on his experiences of renal transplantation.

He had a great interest in medical and military history, and produced an entertaining and very readable book Beyond the figleaf: essays on urology, sex and medical miscellania (Wellington, Steele Roberts, 22009). This fluently written narrative covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from Florence Nightingale, the history of sex, to alcohol and the medical profession, as well as details of various urological societies.

Naturally his superb work was recognised further afield, and in 1992 he became chief of urology and renal transplantation for the Ministry of Defence, Saudi Arabia. His fame spread in the Middle East and he became an adviser in urology and renal transplantation to the Department of Health in Dubai from 1993 to 1995, and during this latter period was also visiting professor in urology to the Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman.

Outside his medical duties he enjoyed sailing and was a member of the Bentley Owners Club of England and of New Zealand. He was first a district surgeon to the Order of St John and, from 1981, was appointed chief commissioner, a role he continued for seven years. As a member of the Antiquarian Horological Society of England, he possessed a collection of some 200 clocks, which he wound lovingly each week. His most prized possession, a mantle clock given by Lord Nelson to his mistress, Emma Hamilton, was kept 15 minutes fast, in honour of Nelson's commitment to punctuality! He also had a fine collection of old surgical instruments.

Donald retired from Wellington Hospital in 1994, to continue in several roles. He acted in an advisory capacity for the Accident Compensation Corporation, and from 1997 to 2002 was full time urologist to Palmerston North Hospital. In 2007 he served as a member of the Capital and District Health Board of Wellington. He also engaged in medico-legal work.

After many years of living in Wellington, he moved with his wife to Ta Horo, near the Otaki River. Here they built an English style garden and Donald built a dry stone wall using the large supply of stones from the nearby river.

Donald died on 13 August 2011 at Mary Potter Hospice in Wellington, at the age of 82. He was survived by his wife Pamela (née Bowden-Hennin), whom he had met while studying for the primary FRCS in 1957, their two sons (Simon and Timothy), daughter (Charlotte) and seven grandchildren.

N Alan Green

[(1) 1968 deleted, 2 April 1969 added. Confirmed by Renal History page, Capital and Coast District Health Board of Wellington.]

Sources used to compile this entry: [Royal Australasian College of Surgeons - accessed 20 November 2013].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England