William Joseph Quilty 1930 - 2008

William Quilty

The Bill Quilty Memorial prize was recently instituted by Melbourne University's School of Rural Health in Shepparton to commemorate a man who devoted 32 years of his professional life, and a large part of his private life, to helping others.

Dr Bill Quilty, who has died from stomach cancer at Shepparton Private Hospital, aged 78, dedicated his considerable skills as a doctor to helping his patients, and beyond them, the wider Shepparton and Goulburn Valley communities.

He helped establish the first coronary care unit at Mooroopna Base Hospital and a diabetes education program at Goulburn Valley Base Hospital, and was local chairman of the Victorian medical post-graduate committee. He was also the regional representative of the AMA until he resigned, and was the regional physician for the Austin Hospital spinal unit, and on the boards of Bendigo and Echuca hospitals.

First as a GP, then a consultant physician, Bill was skilled and committed to his patients; in return, "Dr Quilty" was loved and respected by his patients who were impressed by his strong sense of egalitarianism and spirituality.

Bill, the long awaited boy after four sisters born to William Quilty, a GP, and his wife, Kitty, of Hurlstone Park, Sydney, set his sights on a country medical career early in his life.

Educated at St Ignatius College, Riverview, his commitment to Jesuit values of compassion and caring for those in need was formed, together with his love of literature and learning.

He aimed to become a doctor like his father, but following the death of a close friend in a car accident and four years of mixed success at university, he decided to become a Jesuit priest. However, after two years he decided the priesthood was not for him - but he always said his time in the seminary was crucial in helping him to grow up, to focus and to be more disciplined.

Reunited with his friends he was somewhat out of touch, to the extent of having to be told who Marilyn Monroe was. After 12 months jackerooing he returned to medicine, where he met Selina. They were both resident medical officers at the Mater Hospital, North Sydney, and were married 12 months later. To equip himself for country practice, Bill worked at the Royal Womens' Hospital, and the Princess Alexandra Children's Hospital followed by a post-graduate degree in internal medicine at Concord Repatriation Hospital.

In 1965, he joined the Wyndham Street Clinic, Shepparton that was run by English surgeon William Ferguson and his wife Helen.

The ethical commitment of his Christian faith expressed itself principally in his determination to relate to each patient as an equal. With issues such as abortion and euthanasia he expressed his perceptions when appropriate.

His genuine interest in his patients made him popular with Shepparton's migrant families. He often received home-made wine, home grown vegetables and invitations to marvellous Italian weddings.

He retired in 1997 and embraced volunteer work. He believed Christianity was not just about praying but about doing. He was a radio presenter for Vision Australia, a home tutor and then a teacher's aide at TAFE teaching English to Congolese, Afghani, Iraqi, and Sudanese students. He worked for St Vincent de Paul and Rumbalara Aboriginal Football Club, and wrote letters for Amnesty International.

Diagnosed with cancer early last year, he continued this community involvement, started learning Spanish, as well as gardening, golfing and pursuing social causes.

More than 500 hundred people gathered in St Brendan's Church, Shepparton, to celebrate his life, and he was buried on January 21, his 48th wedding anniversary.

Bill is survived by his wife Selina, children William, Joanna, Mary, Simon, Jonathan and Matthew, and 11 grand children.

Joanna Quilty
By permission of the Age