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Biographical entry Hadlow, Victor Desmond (1930 - 2016)

MB BS Otago 1955; MRCS LRCP 1962; FRCS 1962; FRACS.

14 November 1930
Auckland, New Zealand
4 February 2016
Orthopaedic surgeon


Victor was born in Papatoetoe, Auckland in 1930, to Edgar Hadlow and Elsie Collins. Edgar, a wine and spirit company managing director, was born in London, a Cockney, and Elsie was of Irish descent. Vic had two older brothers, Lawrence and Malcolm. He attended St Heliers Primary School and then in 1943 commenced as a boarder at King's College. This was made possible by Lawrence, then a young RNZAF trainee pilot officer, who paid the initial fees. During his first five years at King's Vic was involved heavily in sporting activities, bird watching, and listening to jazz - but this was insufficient to see him matriculate in his 5th year! Vic was a potent fullback for the 1st XV and selected for the Auckland Schoolboy Reps.

Although Vic's first choice was to become a vet, he was steered towards medicine by Geoffrey Greenbank, his headmaster, rugby coach and mentor at King's College. Following the completion of an intermediate year at Auckland University, Vic gained entry to Otago Medical School in 1950 graduating in 1955. He didn't go to a hall of residence, but boarded with some mildly demented old ladies whom he would regale with jazz piano in their garage. Although Vic was never particularly forthcoming about his University years he had the reputation of being "the crazy guy who would do all the things everyone else was too scared to do!!"

Vic returned to Auckland for his final year as a student and then completed two years as a house surgeon. During that time he met Cecilie Fitzsimons, a physiotherapist and the daughter of a local surgeon, and they married in 1957. That year Vic commenced military training with the Royal New Zealand Air Force and became a member of the Aviation Medicine Unit (AMU). His move into the military was part of a well-thought-out career path where training as a pilot would provide enough money to study surgery in England. Vic proudly graduated top of his flying course and subsequently became the commanding officer of the AMU. He had the opportunity to fly a variety of aircraft from Sunderlands to Vampire jets. With his medical background and aviation experience Vic was approached with an offer to become an American citizen and join the space programme - he declined the invitation as he "preferred to remain a New Zealander". Vic remained an active member of the Reserve Force, attending camp every year, and rising to the rank of Wing Commander until his compulsory retirement from the Air Force at the age of 60 years.

In 1960 Vic travelled to the UK to embark on a surgical career. He initially worked with David Trevor in the King Edward Memorial Hospital, and spent the next three years at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital with George Braddock, who was his mentor and encouraged Vic to become an orthopaedic surgeon. He completed his FRCS during 1962. During a six month paediatric attachment he was exposed to the problems presented by children with congenital dislocation of the hip and, strongly influenced by a lecture from Danish surgeon Julius von Rosen, was convinced that early detection and splintage could largely prevent the difficulties created by late diagnosis.

Vic and Cecilie returned to New Zealand in 1964, Vic having secured an appointment at New Plymouth as the sole orthopaedic surgeon. Establishing and maintaining an orthopaedic service in Taranaki became his mission. Soon after his arrival he set up an extensive, meticulously recorded system to routinely check the hips of all neonates in the region and used the von Rosen splint for any demonstrating instability. This programme was sustained and the careful records subsequently provided the basis for two benchmark papers. In addition, he quickly developed negotiating skills in acquiring the equipment and supporting staff to provide an extensive regional trauma and orthopaedic service. Within three years a further orthopaedic surgeon, David Ludbrook, Vic's great schoolmate from Kings and University, had been appointed. They were then joined by Alastair Grant and over subsequent years Vic's encouragement of junior staff saw a number return to join a steadily developing regional orthopaedic centre at the Taranaki Base Hospital. As New Plymouth was one of the first hospitals in the country to introduce fluoroscopy in theatre, Vic was able to establish routine intra-medullary nailing for treatment of long bone fractures in the late 1960s. In the 1980s he was an early advocate for the use of intra-lesional injection of steroids in the management of Dupuytren's contracture.

Retiring from his public hospital appointment in 1994, Vic continued to operate in private for a further six years before restricting his practice to medico-legal reporting which he pursued until the age 82 years. Vic's orthopaedic legacy continues at the Taranaki Base Hospital with his second son, Simon, following his father's footsteps.

"He was an extremely good colleague," Alastair noted. "He was congenial, extremely ethical, fun and challenging to work with." Vic saw most problems in black and white and had an opinion on all matters, and was at all times willing to vociferously share and defend that opinion! While he could be dogmatic and articulate, particularly on professional issues, this was a useful educational approach enabling easy digestion of complex topics by junior colleagues. He was a role model, inspiring a number of young doctors to pursue a career in orthopaedic surgery. Vic took a keen interest in medical politics throughout his career. He held executive positions with the New Zealand Medical Association. After serving terms on the Executive of the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association he served as a very committed President 1988-89.

Vic maintained numerous interests alongside his busy orthopaedic life. He continued to fly until the age of 70 years, maintaining enthusiasm and skill for aerobatics for much of this time. Flying was his preferred means of travel to outlying clinics in Taranaki. He was an enthusiast for all forms of sporting activities, especially sailing and tennis - fondly caring for his grass tennis court on which he was always intensely competitive. Fitness was maintained by regular running on the beach. He greatly enjoyed billiards, remaining competitive throughout his life, and was a fan of jazz music. He was an avid reader; not only of current orthopaedic journals, but for relaxation; history, philosophy, poetry and Hercule Poirot were particular interests, as were cryptic crosswords. Vic was also involved in a number of farming activities, including drystock, forestry and horticulture and he became a natural expert in all these fields. His original interest in animals was maintained throughout his life and he eventually became Patron of the New Plymouth SPCA.

Vic tried to hold to the Roman and Victorian ideal of the "rounded" man; dutiful to wife, family, orthopaedic surgery, orthopaedic politics, and both mental and physical vigour. He remains a towering figure of a man in the hearts and minds of those that loved him most and is survived and greatly missed by his wife, Cecilie, children Sarah (lawyer), Alastair (orthopaedic surgeon), Simon (orthopaedic surgeon), and James (horticulturalist) and 18 grand-children.

This obituary is based upon Taranaki's Victor of Bones by Virginia Winder 2004, and with the assistance of the Hadlow family

Sources used to compile this entry: [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