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Biographical entry Stewart, Richard John (1942 - 1991)

MRCS and FRCS 1970; MB ChB Otago 1965; ChM Otago 1978; FRACS 1974.

17 November 1942
Invercargill, New Zealand
1 January 1991
General surgeon and Mountaineer


Richard Stewart's career reminds us that in spite of all the advances in medical science the lives of the most dedicated doctors can still be cut short by disabling disease. He was born in Invercargill, New Zealand, on 17 November 1942, the son of Dr Lindsay Rutherford Stewart, a general practitioner-surgeon and his wife, Hilary Stanford, née Hyndman. He was educated locally and then at Otago Medical School where he qualified in 1965. His inclinations were surgical and he came to England in 1968, taking posts at the Royal Marsden and the Gordon Hospitals. He passed the FRCS in 1970 and went on to become senior registrar with Professor Harold Ellis at Westminster and with Mr Pendower at Charing Cross.

He returned to New Zealand in 1974 and was appointed senior lecturer at the Christchurch Medical School and consultant surgeon to the Hospital. He soon acquired the FRACS and the ChM. In 1980 he moved to the Wellington School of Medicine where he became Associate Professor and had important opportunities for research. He was particularly interested in fine needle aspiration of the acute abdomen and he won the Jacksonian Prize of the College for an essay on this subject.

He was the New Zealand delegate to the World Association of Hepatic, Pancreatic and Biliary Surgeons. In addition to his researches he was a tireless worker for the Royal Australasian College. As Chairman of the New Zealand Committee he had the critical task of assessing surgical standards at the smaller hospitals and he was honoured by presentation of the College medal as an acknowledgement of his services. His research interests were wide-ranging and not always the most fashionable, as witnessed by his concern for the morbidly obese. His final publication, the definitive chapter on the acute abdomen for Baillière's clinical gastroenterology was completed two weeks before his death and published posthumously.

As a young man he was introduced to mountaineering by his father and with three friends made the first ascent of the South Face of Mount Cook. After this he was invited by Sir Edmund Hillary to join the Himalayan Schoolhouse Expedition in 1964. The group constructed two schools, two bridges and an airstrip at Lukla. A party of four, including Richard, made the first ascent of the 21,370 ft mountain Thamserku. Writing to Richard in December 1990 Sir Edmund reminisced 'it was a great effort and in fact one of our most successful expeditions, with its combination of climbing and an extensive building programme'.

While still a student he married Christine Mora on 19 September 1964 and by her had a daughter, Polly, and a son, James. Tragically Richard suffered from motor neurone disease, the progress of which compelled him to give up surgery in 1989. He continued to work as Associate Postgraduate Dean and embarked on a degree course in philosophy but he died of his disease on 1 January 1991.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from his widow Mrs C Stewart and his colleagues; NZ Med J 1992 105 392, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England