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Biographical entry Sims, Sir Arthur (1877 - 1969)

Kt 1950; Hon FRCS 1956; MA Canterbury; Hon LLD New Zealand; Hon FRACS; Hon FRACP; Hon FRCOG.

27 April 1969
Accountant, Businessman, Cricketer and Philanthropist


Born in Lincolnshire in 1877, Arthur Sims went to New Zealand with his parents at the age of three. In the then rugged pioneering days of that young country, those same parents spared nothing to ensure that his upbringing and education were the best possible under existing conditions. He responded with deep affection and admiration - a fact which influenced his whole future. Their faith in the Empire, their belief in the essential value of a good education, their foresight in appreciating the part science would play in a rapidly developing world, their staunch adherence to basic moral principles, and their ultimate deaths from cancer are all reflected in Arthur Sims' subsequent career.

As a boy he was brought up in the country, and early acquired a love of outdoor life and games. At Christchurch Boy's High School he was the first boy ever to score 1000 runs and take 100 wickets in one season - an early indication of what was to become one of his greatest interests. He proceeded to Canterbury University where, in the company of Lord Rutherford, he qualified MA with First Class Honours in Chemistry. He then turned his attention to business, and qualified as an accountant - and combined his scientific and commercial knowledge in becoming the protagonist of the frozen meat industry in New Zealand. Ultimately his business interests became protean and world wide. He was an astute man of affairs par excellence - a real merchant venturer - but his dealings were always essentially within the Empire. A born individualist, he was an ardent supporter of free enterprise, and equally an outspoken opponent of Socialism and the Welfare State concept. His amazing success story in business, which developed a breadth of interests and took him from New Zealand to Australia, to South Africa and Rhodesia, and ultimately to the United Kingdom, stemmed from an intense vitality, an inexhaustible energy, an infectious enthusiasm for whatever he was doing, and a belief that the one inexcusable sin was wasting time!

In his younger days, his prowess in cricket was phenomenal - and the love of the game stayed with him throughout life. He played for New Zealand in 1899 versus Australia, and again in 1905 and 1910; but his greatest feat was when leading an Australian side against New Zealand in 1914 he, with Victor Trumper, put up what is still the world's record stand for an 8th wicket partnership of 433 runs in 190 minutes - his own contribution being 140. He himself probably appreciated even more the making of 127 not out playing with the great Dr Grace in a charity match at Blackheath in 1913. Since 1926 he was a member of the Imperial Cricket Conference, and who more deserved membership of the MCC, which he achieved in 1955. One stresses this cricket side of his life because it, was indirectly an important side of his working routine. It was not in his nature to get worried - especially after he married his life partner and ardent supporter and admirer, Nancy, in 1909 - but if tension in business tended to mount too high, he had three antidotes - the Tate Gallery, the Choir at St Paul's, and Lords. A Test Match without Arthur Sims was a rare occasion!

Certain side lights of his personality are shown by the fact that he played active tennis until he was over 75; that although he enjoyed food, he smoked little and drank less; that he had no clothes sense whatsoever; that he was a voracious reader (especially of history); that he collected books and Oriental pottery; and that his admitted heroes were Alexander the Great, W G Grace, Winston Churchill and Cecil Rhodes!

It was not until after the second world war that this indomitable little man - with his own business empire well and truly established - became a philanthropist and a patron of science - particularly medicine.

Sitting in his rather featureless office in Holborn Viaduct, he began to turn his long cherished ideals into eminently practical ideas. His generosity was immense, and was only rivalled by his modesty. His retiring nature hid a dynamic drive, and few knew of the varied spread - the quality as well as ample quantity of his donations to the many causes he espoused. He neither asked for, nor expected, thanks for his largesse. The success of his many schemes was rewarded enough, but over the years he built up a goodly company of firm friends whose appreciation of his generosity was matched only by the admiration and affection they had for the man himself.

A list of some of these donations is surely merited, and it will be obvious how most of them mirror the loves and interests and beliefs that made up his own life.

In 1938 he endowed a Rutherford Memorial Scholarship in Physics at Canterbury University - his alma mater. Soon after, he donated the first radium ever to be used medically in New Zealand, and followed this up after the war with the gift of a cobalt therapy unit to the Christchurch Hospital - a £35,000 gesture. In 1945, he set up his "Empire Scholarships" - to bring one young man each year to Cambridge from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. This scheme was planned on a Rhodes Scholarship basis. In the same year, so impressed was he by Sir Alexander Fleming, the the discovery of penicillin, and so depressed by the lack of recognition accorded to him, that he gave him an annuity for life, and at the same time a generous donation to the Research Fund of Fleming's Hospital - St Mary's.

During the war, he provided all the specialised equipment required by the first New Zealand Mobile Surgical Team to operate in the Middle East; and in 1953 he donated the stained glass windows in Lincoln Cathedral, which commemorate the 198 New Zealand airman who lost their lives serving with Bomber Command.

In 1955 he presented the thrones which decorate the Legislative Chamber of the New Zealand House of Parliament; and in 1965 he gave £10,000 to help establish halls of residence in his old University in Christchurch.

In 1956 he gave £15,000 to the research funds of the Royal College of Surgeons of England; but undoubtedly his most valuable contribution was the setting up of the Sims Commonwealth Travelling Professorships in 1946. These - now usually two annually - were to allow medical men at the top of their profession to travel from the Dominions to the "Old Country" (Sims' terminology!), and from Britain to the Dominions. So inbred an Empire man was he that it took much persuasion to extend and enlarge these invaluable personal contact tours to include the more recent parts of the Commonwealth - over and above the Dominions. When he did, he was overjoyed at the result. It is typical of the man that one of the clauses of the award stipulated that where possible, the Travelling Professor's wife should travel with him, and that if possible they were to have their week-ends free. There are now over thirty of these Professors (and a similar scheme has been established in his only daughter's name for obstetrics and gynaecology), and until his death, they were wont to meet the Donor annually at a dinner held in one of the Royal Colleges. The obvious delight of Arthur Sims and his wife on these occasions was heart-warming to see.

It was not surprising that his service to the Commonwealth was recognised by a surely well deserved and earned Knighthood in 1950. Other awards to him steadily mounted over the years. New Zealand University gave him an Hon LLD; both the Australian Royal Colleges made him an Honorary Fellow, as did the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; and the Royal College of Surgeons of England awarded him its highest honour - the Honorary Medal - in 1949 - made him a Member of the Court of Patrons, and an Honorary Fellow in 1956. He was a constant visitor to the College up till the last months of his life - always welcomed by a growing host of friends trying - quite unsuccessfully! - to make him appreciate what an invaluable contribution he had made to British and Commonwealth medicine.

Industrious, courageous and pertinacious - witty, intelligent, ever seeking new knowledge - kindly, modest and over-generous, Sir Arthur Sims loved life - fully. He mixed the astute business man with the philosopher idealist. In his youth he played his games in the same way as in more mature years he ran his business - for the delight he got out of them; and in so doing he gave, and gave gladly, friendship and stimulus to many who knew him, and hope and happiness to thousands who did not - surely a most honourable Honorary Fellow.

He died on 27 April 1969, aged ninety-one, and was survived by his wife, and his daughter Margaret Black who followed her father's example by endowing a travelling fellowship of obstetricians and gynaecologists.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet 1969, 1, 990;Ann Roy Coll Surg Engl 1969, 44, 357].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England