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Biographical entry McKenzie, Donald Dixon (1902 - 1974)

CMG 1959; MRCS and FRCS 1929; MB ChB New Zealand 1924; FRACS 1934.

Colac, Australia
2 January 1974
General surgeon and Neurosurgeon


Donald Dixon McKenzie was born in Colac, Australia, in 1902, where his father was a Presbyterian minister. In 1905 the family moved to New Zealand. He was educated at Wanganui Technical High School and followed his two elder brothers to Otago University where he qualified in medicine in 1924. After taking care of the practice of his brother at Waiuku while he was overseas, he in turn went to England and became FRCS in 1929. After returning to New Zealand for a short while, he studied in England again, specialising in the use of radium for accessible cancers. He took radium needles back with him to New Zealand in 1931. He was appointed to the staff of the Auckland Hospital and soon became established as a leading surgeon. He had always been interested in neurosurgery, but had no formal training until in 1936 he went to spend a year in San Francisco with Howard Nafziger. He continued to do what neurosurgery he could on his return home but it was not yet an established speciality and only provided part of his work as a general surgeon.

In 1940 he went with the second NZEF to the Middle East and after a period as a general surgeon was posted as a neurosurgeon, with the rank of Major, to the 15th Scottish Hospital. In 1944 he was attached to the Military Hospital for Head Injuries at Oxford and came under the influence of Sir Hugh Cairns. In 1945 he set about the organisation of a formal neurosurgery unit in Auckland Hospital. He was an able administrator and within ten years the unit had become a busy department with a varied neurological programme. His own special interest lay in the spinal cord and autonomic nervous system.

After the successful foundation of the neurosurgical department he devoted his administrative ability to many other medical, educational and charitable organisations in which his Presbyterian sense of duty and restless enquiring mind found full scope. These led him sometimes into conflict and in 1961 after differences with the Auckland Hospital Board he left the staff of the unit that he had founded.

He received numerous distinctions, the most important of which was his appointment as CMG in 1959. He and Wilder Penfield were the only two representatives from the Commonwealth to be honoured with invitations as official guests at the Centenary Celebrations in 1961 of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases.

Before and after retirement he successfully struggled to develop a thriving farm from poor land, but his final days were marred by a long and distressing illness. He died on January 2 1974, aged 72, leaving a wife and son.

Sources used to compile this entry: [NZ med J 1974, 80, 182].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England