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Biographical entry O'Regan, John Arthur Rolland (1904 - 1992)

MRCS and FRCS 1931; MB ChB Otago 1928; FRACS 1938.

1 June 1904
Wellington, New Zealand
20 November 1992
General practitioner, General surgeon and Politician


John Arthur Rolland O'Regan (Ro) was born in Wellington on 1 June 1904, the son of Mr Justice O'Regan. He was educated at St Patrick's College, Wellington, and graduated from the Otago Medical School in 1928. He was house surgeon at Wellington Hospital and went to London in 1929 for surgical training. He was resident surgical officer at Poplar Hospital and at the Seamens' Hospital, Greenwich. He obtained his FRCS in 1931.

O'Regan returned to Wellington in 1933 in general practice in the central area and then as a surgeon, being surgeon to Wellington Hospital (1936-60) and to the Home of Compassion, Island Bay (1933-63). Essentially he was a general surgeon with a special interest in cancer. In 1938 he became FRACS and later was a college and university examiner in surgery. He was President of the Cancer Society of New Zealand from 1963 to 1965. After retiring from the hospital he was chief medical officer to the New Zealand Railways from 1960 to 1965.

He saw war service as surgeon to the hospital ships Manganui, Oranje and Pacific Star. He was present at the signing of the Japanese surrender in 1946 on Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.

He inherited from his father a strong interest in social justice which he reinforced by wide reading. He was prepared to back any issue that he thought should activate all citizens. The abandonment of racist exclusions in sport, the war in Vietnam and nuclear disarmament were all espoused with vigour. On final retirement from surgery he had a second career in local government but failed to be elected to Parliament in 1966 as a Labour candidate. He served on the Wellington City Council from 1965 to 1974 where he was able to apply his great expertise in rating and land value. His book Rating in New Zealand is a reference on the subject. As he had been fond of the harbour since childhood he was happy in being a long-serving member of the Wellington Harbour Board, and chair from 1972 to 1974. Also he was one of the three members of the Sheehan Commission of Enquiry into Maori Reserve Land and wrote its report in 1974.

O'Regan was a striking character graced with high intelligence and gifted with power in communication. While strongly assertive he was also genial and compassonate. A strong but independent loyalty was given to his religious faith and he was a founding member of the Guild of St Luke and SS Cosmas and Damian, to which he contributed considerably. He made his mark not only in his profession but in the wider community. An extensively read man since childhood, his declining years were sad as he lost his sight with macular degeneration and a succession of strokes eroded his verbal fluency.

O'Regan married Rena Bradshaw of the Ngai Tahu people in London in 1932, and they had two sons and one daughter. Rena died in 1966 after thirty years of marriage. Three years later O'Regan married an old friend, Lena Dowling, who helped greatly with his disability. Lena died three weeks after O'Regan, who died on 20 November 1992.

Sources used to compile this entry: [NZ Med J 1993 106 113, with information from Dr John Bergin of Wellington].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England