Eric Burnard was born in Gisborne, New Zealand in 1916, the son of Leonard Thomas Burnard, a barrister and solicitor, and Dorothy Valentine Burnard (nee Bull). He attended Wanganui Collegiate School and Otago University Medical School. After graduating in 1939, he joined the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1941, as a medical officer, and served in the Middle East and Italy with the rank of major.
He returned to New Zealand, but subsequently began his paediatric career at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London, in 1946. From there he moved to work with Sir James Spence at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and though he stayed in New Zealand for a short period from 1950, he returned to the United Kingdom to work at St Mary’s Hospital in London in 1954. In England he attended many meetings, wrote prolifically, and formed friendships which lasted a lifetime. His interests covered a wide spectrum of paediatric disorders; gastro-intestinal tract, kidneys, body chemistry, and the basic physiology of body temperature. His colleagues in England were people of outstanding ability – Lightwood, Cross, Schlesinger, Payne, Dawes, Davis and Tizard. All of these people acknowledged Eric’s intellectual input in their fiery discussions. In North America, he discussed and philosophised with the leading paediatricians of the time; Bill Tooley, June Brady, Paul Swyer, Millie Stahlman, Dick Rowe, Mary Ellen Avery and Gerry Odell.
In 1959 and 1960, Eric worked in New York at the Presbyterian Hospital with Stan James, developing skills and making contributions to the literature with his studies of the heart and lungs of newborn babies. In 1961, he accepted an appointment with the Children’s Medical Research Foundation to develop research on newborn babies in Sydney. At The Women’s Hospital, Crown Street, Sydney, he established a unit which achieved international recognition, and where he provided a role model for many young paediatricians. He was soon asked by (the late) Dr Maureen Grattan-Smith, the Director of Maternal and Perinatal Studies at the NSW Department of Health at that time, to assist her in making people aware of the need for the foetus to develop into a quality baby.
Between 1940 and 1990, he wrote, or was involved with, 60 first class publications and innumerable abstracts. His papers were published in the significant journals in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, North America, Scandinavia, Australia and Malaysia. He was actively involved in scientific presentations to the Australian College of Paediatrics, the Paediatric Research Society of Australia, as well as the Australian Perinatal Society.
In 1981, he retired from the Children’s Medical Research Foundation, and yet continued to read, write and study the voluminous amount of data he had collected over the years. His last paper was published in Acta Paediatrica Scandinavica as part of the Festschrift of his long time friend Bent Fries-Hansen, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
With his wife Joyce, he ensured that their home in Woollahra was always open to those who wished to come and talk and receive his pithy scientific comments. They also provided a haven for many overseas paediatricians.
In 1989, he had a stroke, which was indeed a cruel blow for a man of such intellect. Until the time of his death he was still reading his Lancet, BMJ, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, the Australian and New Zealand Joural of Medicine, the Medical Journal of Australia and Pediatrics. Those who knew him will have fond memories of, and pride in his achievements.
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