Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Wood, William Sealy (1917 - 2012)

OBE 1978; KStJ; MB BS Otago 1940; FRCS 1948; FRACS 1952.

24 August 1917
Randalstown, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
10 December 2012
General surgeon and Police surgeon


'Sealy' (as he was widely known) was born in Randalstown County Antrim, Northern Ireland. He was the only child of William and Agnes Wood. His mother, a New Zealander, was one of the "First 50" nurses to serve in the First World War. She returned to New Zealand with Sealy when he was two years old and able to manage the long sea voyage. Agnes' parents, George and Emma Williams, lived in Hastings where George was the steward at Ormond Estate. It was he who planted the celebrated oak trees in the scenic and much admired Oak Avenue not far from the Hastings Memorial Hospital.

Sealy's early life was in Southland, a province of which he was fiercely proud. His mother Agnes ran a private medical and surgical hospital - Carnsmore - in Invercargill. He was Dux of Waihopai primary school and had an excellent academic and sporting career at Southland Boys High School. He gained a University Scholarship, captained the schools elevens in both hockey and cricket and passed his ATCL in violin.

He entered Otago Medical School in 1935 graduating in 1940 after a final year in Auckland. He was soon involved, as all young graduates were, in the turmoil of the Second World War. He saw service in Egypt, Italy, and New Caledonia (2NZEFIP August 1943-1944, 2NZcon, Depot and Kalavere Hospital). He was commissioned in 1942 rising eventually to the rank of Captain. He was also the senior medical officer at Linton Army Camp in the last days of the war.

In 1946 he made a personal representation to Lord Bernard Freyberg, then commander in chief of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Sealy pointed out that the famous "Kiwi" rugby team, comprising forces personnel, had had the blessing of the government and the same should be extended to hockey players. Freyberg agreed and Sealy led a very successful team of 2NZEF military hockey players on a tour of Sri Lanka and India.

Sealy returned to London for surgical training at prestigious London Hospitals gaining his English Fellowship in Surgery in 1948. In 1947 he met and married the enduring love of his life - Elizabeth Doreen Williams. Doreen, as she was always known, was a trained nurse with a strong Welsh background.

Sealy and Doreen returned to New Zealand in 1949 where he took up a position as full time surgeon at Green Lane Hospital. This was the beginning of a nearly 35 year association with this institution. He was integral to a wide ranging and impressive list of achievements in general surgery. He pioneered endoscopy, upper gastro-intestinal surgery and was the first licensed anatomist in Auckland running anatomy courses from the Stevenson laboratory at Green Lane. From that laboratory he convened, as honorary lecturer in anatomy, an outstanding basic medical sciences course for RACS candidates.

In the community he was a senior police surgeon for many years, the visiting surgeon to Paremoremo maximum security prison and had a flourishing and vigorous private practice. He is perhaps best remembered for his work with the order of St John rising from Brigade Surgeon in 1954 to Knight of Grace in 1980. Medical students of the time remember his first aid afternoons organised with military precision through up to twenty clinical stations.

He served on the Medical Council of New Zealand education committee and was an external examiner in surgery for the Otago University and the Fiji School of Medicine. He published many articles in both academic journals and the popular press and did some of the earliest research into the effects of blood alcohol levels on driving ability.

His commitment to the Australasian College (he was FRACS by examination in 1952) was impressive. He served on the New Zealand committee from 1962 to 1972 and was a member of the Court of Examiners from 1965 to 1975. He was awarded the College medal for these services in 1979.

If that were not enough he still found time to perform as a mandolin player for the Auckland Balkan Folk orchestra and the Mandolinata Orchestra. An accomplished violinist, many remember his playing at the dinner parties Doreen and he hosted at his home in Mountain Road Epsom. He gave freely of his time to the Auckland Hockey association and played golf to a single figure handicap, holing out in one on a number of occasions. He was an avid tramper and mountaineer and in 1978 successfully conquered the Copeland Pass of the Southern Alps.

In 1978 he was honoured with an OBE for, as his citation reads, "For services to medicine and the community".

I was fortunate to know him as a teacher (both as an undergraduate and a training registrar) and, from 1977, as a colleague when we were teamed together at Green Lane. His clinical acumen was outstanding and his operative techniques accurate and almost always near bloodless. His grasp of anatomy was excellent and his surgical strategies always contemporary. His capacity for difficult and time consuming procedures remained undiminished until he retired from clinical practice in 1983. His semi-retirement involved work with the Rehabilitation League and as a medical officer for the War Pension Board. No returned soldier could wish for a more effective and strong advocate for their cause.

Thereafter he enjoyed a long non-medical retirement with Doreen until they were finally parted by her death in 2004.

He is survived by his three children - John, David and Elaine, and their children Amanda, Christopher, Matthew, Stephen and Sarah. He had one great grand-daughter Ellena. His family and a host of friends gathered at St Mark's church in Remuera to celebrate his long and productive life. His closest should be comforted in the knowledge that such a remarkable man and talented surgeon will be remembered for many years to come.

The assistance of Elaine, Sealy's daughter and Mr Keith Ewen FRACS, a long time friend and colleague of Sealy, is gratefully acknowledged.

P G Alley

Sources used to compile this entry: [Republished by kind permission of the President and Council of The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons from In Memoriam (].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England