John Apthorp was born in Hamilton to Edward and Violet Apthorp. His father was Music Teacher at Southwell School. On 25 August 195,1 he married Phyllis Mary Willcocks, an English nurse who had emigrated to New Zealand. During the course of a 58 year marriage they had 6 children: Paul, Christopher, Timothy, Peter, Cathy (a nurse) and Ruth, together with 11 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. His only sibling was his twin brother Peter, also a doctor (general practitioner in Masterton). John died suddenly, presumably of an acute arrhythmia, at his son Paul's house in Ngatea. His wife Mary pre-deceased him on 7 May 2009, and his brother Peter died 48 days after John's death.
John was educated at Southwell School, Christ's College and Otago University (in those days a 'College' of the University of New Zealand, hence his degree MB ChB). After house officer jobs at Wellington Hospital he was appointed Registrar in Medicine and Chest Diseases at Wellington and Hutt Hospitals in 1952. From 1954 to 1956 he spent 3 years in post-graduate training at Hammersmith Hospital, London, obtaining the MRCP Edinburgh in 1955. He returned to New Zealand in 1956, gained his MRACP and was appointed full-time physician to Thames Hospital, where he remained until 1981. His career then took a slightly unusual turn when he left Thames and went to Hong Kong to work in the Tang Chi Ngong Specialist Family Clinic for two and a half years, a period in his life which he particularly enjoyed. He returned to New Zealand in 1984 and took up full-time geriatric medicine, becoming geriatrician for the entire South Waikato region (Putaruru, Tokoroa, Taupo and Rotorua), based at Taupo Hospital, where he became medical superintendent. He retired at the age of 65 in 1991 and returned to his house and garden in Thames.
Given his background, it is not surprising that John remained devoted to music, particularly church music, throughout his life. He was always a prominent and enthusiastic member of his local church choir wherever he happened to be. He was also a keen, if inexpert, pianist and recorder-player. His other passion was gardening. He was a very knowledgeable horticulturalist, his garden in Thames won several awards.
As a doctor, John was a wonderful example of that dying breed – a genuine general physician. His wealth of practical experience gained during the years, when the sophisticated acme of investigational imagery was the chest x-ray, made him a formidable clinician and a virtuoso wielder of the stethoscope. He had the enviable gift of recognising instinctively whether his patient was or was not seriously ill. During his tenure at Thames, he cared for paediatric as well as adult inpatients and was responsible for setting up and running a Coronary Care Unit. He disliked dictaphones, many of his letters and reports were written longhand with a fountain pen in his beautiful clear and legible script.
Gentle and empathetic, he was greatly beloved by his patients and also admired and respected by his colleagues. He did not seek or receive high academic or college honours, but his contribution to the health and well being of his fellow New Zealanders' was nonetheless immense.
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