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Biographical entry Noronha, Reynold Francis Xavier (1940 - 2012)

LMS Makerere 1963; MB ChB 1964; FRCS 1967; FACS 1978; FRCSC 1979; MD; FRACS.

3 December 1940
Mombasa, Kenya
18 May 2012
Otago, New Zealand


Reynold Francis Xavier Noronha or 'Rey' as we all knew him, was born on the island of Mombasa, in Kenya, on 3rd December 1940, the second son of a family of four (an older brother, Edwin, and younger sisters, Lydia and Bevinda). His parents, born and raised in the Portuguese colony of Goa (speaking Konkani and Portuguese), on the west coast of India had moved to Kenya (learning English and Swahili).

Rey went to primary and secondary school in Mombasa, where his Catholic upbringing remained a central aspect of his life. He was a very capable student, at the age of 15 years passing the Cambridge School Certificate with a First Grade rating and immediately entering Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, for pre-clinical medical studies. Rey loved sports, playing cricket, soccer, tennis, table tennis and squash. He also acted in high school plays and wrote a play called "Two Gentleman of Makerere" for the Makerere Residence Halls English Competition. Rey excelled at Medical School and graduated in March 1963 at the age of 22. He was the youngest graduate and top of his class with the highest achievements by any graduate up to that time at Medical School.

Rey returned to Mombasa for his internship year (1963-1964) at The Coast Province General Hospital (six months medicine and six months surgery). He then returned to Kampala to pursue a surgical career having been offered a registrarship at Mulago Hospital. He started with general and orthopaedic surgery, but after three months was offered a lectureship in anatomy at his medical school. This kindled a love of research and he collaborated with his colleagues and the Professor of Anatomy, David Allbright, to publish his first paper on Skeletal Muscle Rejuvenation by Satellite Cells. (It was Allbright who suggested his name be abbreviated to 'Rey'.) After eighteen months as a lecturer in anatomy, Rey landed in London on a cold, February day, having enrolled for a three month course at the Royal College of Surgeons to study for the primary FRCS. However, as the primary examination was being held within a week of his arrival Rey decided to have a go, and passed. Using the money refunded from his course Rey joined a group of doctors and nurses on a ski holiday in Switzerland!

Rey commenced his UK experience by securing a position in the Accident and Emergency Department at the Radcliffe Infirmary where he became interested in urology. Following six months of neurosurgery at Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, six months general and vascular surgery at Dartford, Kent and a two month course at St Thomas' Hospital, at the age of 26 years Rey passed the RCS Fellowship examination at his first attempt. Rey returned to Dartford as a Resident Surgical Officer where the influence of Mr Tuffill, Urologist, finally cemented Rey's deepening interest Urology. Keen to pursue an academic career, Rey applied for and was offered a lectureship in surgery in Dunedin by Professor G Frankel.

Rey arrived in New Zealand in August 1969 as a junior consultant in the Dunedin General Surgery Department with an associated University of Otago appointment. Within six months of Rey's arrival Professor Frankel had resigned to go to Adelaide with Alan Clarke being appointed to succeed him. Rey, at this stage, was fortunate to meet Murray Goodall, the Director of the Hugh Adam Cancer Research Department, and this was the start of a long, deep friendship and a productive research association. His work on endocrine modulation of nitrosamine carcinogenesis in mice and rats, resulted in the award of MD (Distinction) Otago.

While working at Dartford Ray had met Yvonne Masters, a student nurse, who in 1970 was persuaded to emigrate to New Zealand. They married after a year and their first child, Devi, was born one year later.

Working as a consultant general surgeon, Rey recognised that specialised urologists were needed at Dunedin Hospital and, determined to sharpen his skills in this field, he secured an attachment at the St Louis University Medical School for two years with Professor Shoenberg and the family set off. The time in USA was prolonged when Rey accepted an Assistant Professorship at St Louis Medical School and Hospital, as a full-time academic urologist involved in research and the training of Residents. Rey was elected FACS (1978) and following examination became FRCS (Canada) in urology in 1979.

After a further five years and two more children, Nazir and Kiri, Rey and Yvonne decided that New Zealand was a better place to raise the children. So in 1980, to the amazement of his American colleagues, they left St Louis and returned to Dunedin, Rey initially working as a Senior Research Fellow with Murray Goodall in Cancer Research. He started growing stem cells in cultures, and together with Murray, initiated a number of laboratory and clinical research projects. Rey continued this work despite the difficulties created by the closure of the Cancer Research Department in 1986, the resignation of Murray Goodall and a lack of support from the Surgery Department.

Rey accepted the position as Senior Lecturer in Urology and Head of the Department of Urology in 1983. A good lateral thinker with a wry sense of humour, Rey was a widely experienced clinician and became a very supportive colleague of Jerry Walton, who was the sole urologist in Dunedin at that time. In 1995 Rey resigned his Dunedin Hospital and University position and commenced full-time private practice, which quickly flourished. Rey had never been happier in his work, his stress-levels were reduced, and he enjoyed working with the staff and patients at the Mercy Hospital.

Rey was a dependable and loyal friend; a respected doctor and colleague, who saw the comic side of life in his own journey and had a joke for every occasion. Rey enjoyed the company of people - friends and patients alike. He had a remarkable memory, never forgetting a face and treating everyone equally. A builder working on Rey's rooms said that Rey was the only professional man ever to make him a cup of coffee! With a thirst for knowledge and the ability to converse on any topic from American politics to rugby, Rey was outspoken, fearless and not intimidated by anyone and championed the underdog. He retained a keen interest in sport and was a proud supporter of the All Blacks and the Black Caps. Throughout his life he enjoyed tennis, squash and golf, but he especially enjoyed travel, good food, movies and the company of family and friends.

Unfortunately in 2005 Rey discovered he had Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis which forced him to retire from clinical practice. Gradually this disease limited his respiratory function and progressively restricted his activity. Rey faced his illness the way he faced life, with courage, determination and a sense of humour. He planned his own funeral, wrote his own death notice, eulogy and obituary. When told you don't write your own eulogy, other people eulogise you, Rey said he wanted to make sure they got it right!

Sadly on Friday 18th May, Rey passed away at Otago Hospice, surrounded by his family. Rey is survived by his wife, Yvonne, and children Devi, Nazir (wife, Octavia), and Kiri (husband, Jay). Regrettably, Rey did not live long enough to meet his two grandsons, Rex and Saben. Rey was a man of great compassion who stood for truth and justice, come what may. Like his father, he was a gregarious man who never saw a stranger, but only an undiscovered friend.

Jay Morris

Sources used to compile this entry: [This obituary is based upon the eulogy provided by Jay Morris (son in law) with help from Mr Jerry Walton FRACS and members of Rey's family; 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