John Greenwell 1922-2012


John Greenwell was born in Leura NSW to Harold and Sarah Greenwell. He was the youngest of four children and his father owned and ran a pharmacy on Katoomba Street in Katoomba. He attended Katoomba Public School and he finished his education at Sydney Grammar School in 1940 and the following year commenced the study of medicine at Sydney University graduating in 1946.

He did his junior and senior residency at St Vincent’s Hospital and after a short experience with general practice in Granville declined the suggestion to join his brother, Campbell, who was a GP in Katoomba and took up a resident medical officer position at the Royal Hospital for Women in Paddington. After two years as an RMO and Registrar he was appointed as Medical Administrator from 1950 until 1952 when he worked his passage to London as a ship’s doctor and studied at the Post Graduate School of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in London between 1953 and 1954 at which time he was successful in obtaining his membership of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. On his return to Sydney in 1954 he was appointed as General Medical Superintendent of the Royal Hospital for Women.

Greenwell was unusual in that he did not plan to spend only a year or two as Medical Superintendent before branching into private practice, as was usual at that time, but proposed to spend his medical career involved in the running of the Royal Hospital for Women or ‘Royal’ as it was affectionately known. In 1956 Greenwell married Pauline McLure and they had two children. In 1964 he joined East Sydney Rotary Club and when he retired from this club in 2007 he was the longest serving member of 43 years.

Greenwell was particularly far sighted and early in his time at the ‘Royal’ was involved in the appointment of a Staff Specialist Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, initially this was
Bruce Dawson and then subsequently Ed Bosch. Greenwell successfully appointed Dick Climie as the first Director of Anaesthesia and Bob Osborne as Director of Pathology. He became aware of the importance of highly qualified obstetricians and gynaecologists in salaried positions within the hospital and was instrumental in the appointment of Ed Bosch as Director of Medical Services, Col Fisher as Staff Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Steve Steigrad as Deputy General Medical Superintendent. He was elevated to the fellowship of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1963.

Greenwell was deeply interested in hospital administration and completed a course in administration at Elizabeth in South Australia and was subsequently appointed a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Medical Administrators in 1973. He was a foundation Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists and until his retirement he was the representative of the college on the Australian Council in Healthcare Standards. During his tenure at the ‘Royal’ he was intimately involved in change and the institution of interventions that are now accepted as normal. He was the first to admit husbands into the Delivery Ward and to encourage the rooming-in of infants with their mothers. He was closely involved in the establishment of epidural anaesthesia for women in labour and for the introduction of obstetric ultrasound. The Ultrasound Department at the ‘Royal’ was the second in the world. He had performed the first exchange transfusion for Rhesus isoimmunisation in Australia in 1949 and oversaw the development of intrauterine transfusions for severely Rhesus affected infants in utero and the ‘Royal’ was made the state centre for the management of severely affected pregnancies. He encouraged the development of neo-natal paediatrics and the establishment of a Newborn Intensive Care Unit. Throughout his time at the ‘Royal’ he attended patients in the Outpatients Department, did operating lists and managed his own private obstetric and gynaecological practice within the hospital as well as lecturing to midwifery and medical students.

In association with the Benevolent Society of NSW he saw the development of the Royal Hospital for Women into various divisions and departments with the extension of expertise within all of these. He retired in 1987 after 38 years service to the ‘Royal’. His later years were marred by increasing ill health and he was predeceased by Pauline. He is survived by his children, Lisa and Robert and grandchildren Jocelyn, Charlie and Jonathan.

Stephen Steigrad