John Beveridge was born in Sydney in 1925, son of Harry Beveridge, bank manager, and his wife Lucy (nee Ainsworth).
I feel deeply privileged to have this opportunity to speak of John’s life, for there are so many amongst us well qualified to do so. Whether you were a friend, colleague, student, patient, admirer or indeed, adversary, one fact is undisputed: JB’s influence on child health in this state and country is second to none. Yet 'influence' is an understatement; he had not only the vision and the passion, but also the determination, courage and ability to make it happen, and others followed.
Those of us who were fortunate to work closely with John have been inspired by his example, while countless others have come to admire, and possibly fear the legend, for this man was an awesome giant in our midst. Yes, there was reason for fear because he was fearless and unstoppable in his dedication to his vision for children’s health care. JB had a temper, but if you shared his commitment, he would forgive and listen, and support and nurture. The empire John built was not democratic, yet we felt enormous pride and confidence with him as our leader. He was a man of his time, and we shall never see another like him.
John’s brilliance became apparent while at Sydney High School, where he was prefect, football captain, and dux in 1941. He went on to the Faculty of Medicine at University of Sydney where he was once again dux in 1942, 1943, and 1944; and graduated in 1947, with first class honours, the University Medal and the AE Mills Prize for distinction throughout the undergraduate course. The quote in the Senior Yearbook (1946/7) said of John Beveridge: 'and still they gazed, and still the wonder grew, that one small head could carry all he knew'.
After residency at Royal Prince Alfred and Concord Hospitals, 'Muscles' as he was affectionately nicknamed, began his paediatric training at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Camperdown and by 1952, he was Chief Resident Medical Officer, a position he retained for three years. Many of the legends we all know about JB begin here. To quote Grahame Wise, an old friend and colleague of John’s; 'he single-handedly elevated the Royal Alexandra from a cottage industry, to a children’s hospital of the 20th century', which has continued on the path that John had initiated. His concern and advocacy for the welfare of the child and family became his mission and it explains much of what is to follow. The high standards and expectations did ruffle some feathers; in fact he has been described as 'a meticulous feather ruffler'.
In August 1954, while doubling as locum nurses’ health officer, John diagnosed and admitted the wonderful Libby Cookson, and so 45 years ago began that outstanding partnership. In 1959, they married and had two sons; John and Sandy (who followed his father, is a Fellow of the College and a geriatrician), and a daughter, Louise.
After a further year as research fellow, John travelled as the Wunderly Fellow to Great Ormond Street and to Boston, returning in 1957, to commence private practice in Macquarie Street, in conjunction with honorary consultant appointments at Royal Alexandra, Royal Hospital for Women and the Dental Hospitals. He is described by colleagues to have had the largest paediatric private consulting practice in the state, and a wide referral base from many country centres. One of the disappointments of John’s life was being overlooked for the Chair at the University of Sydney but, of course, were it not for that pivotal omission, the entire landscape of child health in this State would be radically different.
In 1962, John Beveridge was appointed Foundation Professor of Paediatrics at University of New South Wales and Clinical Director of the hospital department, positions he held until his retirement in 1990. The University received a telegram from Toby Bowring which read: 'Congratulations to the University of New South Wales on the appointment of Professor John Beveridge. It now has the best option of achieving a hospital of world stature'. During those 28 years, he led the way in shaping and reforming child health and the role of children’s hospitals. He was a dedicated teacher and a fearsome advocate for student participation in patient care. All who were students during those many years will vividly remember, there were expectations too.
The clinical service grew from borrowed wards at Prince Henry Hospital, to refurbished army huts at the Prince of Wales Hospital Group, then expanding into the new buildings of the Prince of Wales Children’s Hospital in 1976. JB was absolutely in charge of all aspects of the service and its various stages of redevelopment. Grahame Wise has lovingly described JB as suffering from 'congenital disdelegatio – a total inability to delegate major responsibility'. Whether it was congenital or acquired, his capacity to encompass all aspects, from the broadest vision to the finest detail, was truly remarkable. I first met JB in 1974, and like many others, I distinctly remember the moment. Contrary to my expectations, I was not frightened but he created a deep and lasting impression.
At the time of his retirement in 1990, the nursing staff of the hospital presented him with a book entitled 'Testament to an Era', a wonderful tribute to his achievements during 28 years at the helm. One of the many quotes in the book was one from John Yu, which said: 'John Beveridge and the Prince of Wales Children’s Hospital are synonymous: he conceived the hospital and built it brick by brick, ensuring that it met his own personal standards of excellence. Our subsequent progression to what is now Sydney Children’s Hospital is a natural consequence of the foundations John had laid. His contribution to Sydney’s two great children’s hospitals is incomparable.
Through his prominent role in the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, John was able to influence policy and practice nationally and beyond paediatrics. Between 1970 and 1981, he served as the first paediatric censor of the College and he was a member of Council from 1977 to 1983. John’s service to the College and its many committees was recognised in 1988, when he was awarded the College Medal. Many will remember JB as the examiner and, once again, legends abound. For example, he fastidiously demanded respect for the patient and a comprehensive 'total care' approach to patient and family. I, and many others came to the conclusion that while JB’s reputation was frightening, he was the most consistent and fair of examiners.
John Beveridge also served on many Government and Health Department committees, including consultancies in health planning and community medicine after his retirement. In 1978, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to paediatrics. The Australian College of Paediatrics also honoured John by awarding him the Howard Williams Medal in 1995.
There were many other academic awards, honours and distinctions. JB was visiting professor to many universities and hospitals throughout Australia, and the world. In particular, he travelled in 1964, as recipient of the Carnegie Travelling Fellowship and in 1977, as the Sir Arthur Sims Commonwealth Travelling Professor. He was forever seeking better ways of delivering health care for children. These days we form task forces and attend workshops, and ponder ways to improve quality and access, reduce length of stay and ensure efficiency in hospital practice. JB did that years ago in his own inimitable fashion. His impact on reducing length of hospital stay is hard to beat. He introduced networking, outreach clinics, rural partnerships, secondment of junior medical officers, accountability for one’s clinical performance and, very importantly, parental involvement in hospital care of children. John changed the environment of children’s hospitals and pioneered play therapy. He encouraged and facilitated subspecialties in paediatrics. He ensured that excellent service and academic pursuits were inseparable, and that teaching, both undergraduate and postgraduate, was one of the essential responsibilities of the health system.
To say that he was a visionary, a pioneer and a reformer is not enough; his impact was nothing less than revolutionary. I can readily recall two of many occasions at public events when political leaders spoke of their experience of standing in the way of John’s tenacious advocacy. One was Nick Greiner in 1991, and the other was Andrew Refshauge last year. They and numerous others were unanimous in their admiration and respect for a fearless crusader.
To me and the hospital I serve, JB remained a true friend and mentor, even after his retirement. In characteristic fashion, he had prescribed no flowers in his memory and had requested that all donations go to the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation.
We mourn the death of John Beveridge, grateful that he lived and taught and built and reformed and that he showed us how to fight for the things we believe in and, most importantly, for the children who need us.
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