Melville Chinner served The Royal Australasian College of Physicians and its membership for over 20 years on state and national committees, culminating in his election by council as president from 1968 to 1970. A quiet spoken man of firm beliefs, he was extremely proud of the College and devoted to its progress and reputation. He maintained an active interest in the College after retirement as president, and especially an interest in his younger physician colleagues. True to his character and his beliefs, this continuing interest was devoid of criticism or interference, and concentrated only on excellence and endeavour. Chinner's active association with the College began in 1950, when he was elected a member of the South Australian state committee and he served as its chairman from 1958 to 1962. He was elected to council in 1957, and served continuously on council until it elected him a vice-president from 1964 to 1968. During those 20 years he was the College's representative on a variety of state and national organisations and institutions.
Perhaps his most important contribution to the membership was as a member of the then grants advisory committee from 1964, and as chairman of the committee from 1966 to 1968. In this role he worked tirelessly to promote the image of the College to donors of scholarships and grants and to solicit support from potential donors. His integrity and plain speaking, coupled with an astute financial brain, ensured him remarkable success in expanding the financial base of the grants advisory committee and many past and present recipients of scholarships and research awards owe him a great debt of gratitude for his outstanding achievements. His contributions to council's debates and deliberations were thoughtful, constructive and concise, albeit somewhat conservative at times, but he demonstrated great vision for the future. He was widely respected with affection by his peers and juniors.
Melville Ernest Chinner was born at Angaston, South Australia, to Alfred and Edith Chinner (nee Batten). His father was a horticulturist and his mother was the daughter of a horticulturist. It seems likely that a combination of genetic and environmental influences played an important part in his particular interests outside medicine. He was an expert in growing the camellias and old-fashioned roses which adorned his garden in suburban Adelaide, and he was a president of the Orchid Club of South Australia. These interests extended outside the floral world. He was an authority on Australian finches and bred many varieties of these birds in the aviaries at his home. His love of beauty extended further, to fine paintings of a conservative style, fine porcelain and glassware, fine silver and certainly fine wine. He delighted in controversy and discussion on these subjects and on sharing his interests with his many friends from many walks of life. An evening spent at 'Chin's' home was always a delightful and educational experience. Were it not for his excellence as a physician and his devotion to the practice of internal medicine, he could well have been the director of an art gallery.
Chinner's secondary schooling was at St Peter's College, Adelaide followed by undergraduate training at the University of Adelaide and the Royal Adelaide Hospital. After his internship he entered general practice for the next 10 years but his abiding desire was to become a physician. Those years in general practice gave him a deep understanding of the problems of his patients and of the general practitioners who used him as a consultant. The latter status was achieved in 1938, by gaining the MRACP followed by a year of postgraduate training in London in 1939, when he obtained the MRCP. The war of 1939 to 1945, interrupted his professional career and he served as a physician major with the 2nd Australian Imperial Force in New Guinea and the Pacific zone. In 1941, he married Louise Furner Blake, the daughter of a dentist. Their union produced two daughters.
With the cessation of hostilities he entered private consultant practice and resumed his appointment as an honorary assistant physician to the Adelaide Children's Hospital. In 1946, he was appointed an honorary assistant physician to the Royal Adelaide Hospital and in 1955, as an honorary physician to this hospital until he retired in 1967, at the age of 65 years. He was a consulting physician to the Repatriation General Hospital, Daw Park from 1956 until 1967. His earlier experience in general practice and a remarkable breadth of knowledge of all areas of internal medicine, combined with a deep concern and empathy for his patients, ensured his success in a very busy private practice. He gained a reputation as a logical, structured and dedicated undergraduate and postgraduate teacher without any eccentricities or foibles. There was always a twinkle of interest and humour in his eyes, even if the humour was rather precise and dry. Throughout his clinical life he served as an excellent example to his peers and juniors, basing management on knowledge and clear thinking backed by compassion and humility. He was the complete general physician.
At first acquaintance Melville Chinner appeared to be reserved, quiet spoken and rather conservative, but the true picture evolved with continuing contact. He had a delightfully dry sense of humour and would converse on all nature of things without rancour. Certainly he saw most things as either black or white with only occasional shades of grey, and only became really dogmatic when discussing left wing politicians or doctors, bureaucrats or big government. He had a lifelong interest in sport. A prowess at Australian Rules football was replaced in later life by a mean handicap at golf.
Chinner's incisive mind, coupled with respect for his integrity and dedication, placed heavy demands upon him to serve on a wide variety of medical and non-professional committees and often to act as a chairman or adjudicator. He became a Justice of the Peace in 1928, and contributed to the efforts of many charitable organisations. The respect and affection of medical undergraduates resulted in his election as president of the Adelaide Medical Students Society in the early post-war years. He was a president of the South Australian branch of the British Medical Association (as it was in those years) in 1956 and 1957, and chairman of the Honorary Medical Staff Society of the Royal Adelaide Hospital for a number of years, as well as being a member or chairman of many sub-committees of that Society.
With his retirement as president of the College, it might well have been thought that he would call it a day and retire to enjoy his other interests, but it was obviously hard for him to abrogate responsibility or deny his belief that one should give more to the community than one had received. He had been a member of the Medical Board of South Australia since 1964, and accepted the stressful role of its president in 1971. A sudden, severe left-sided hemiplegia struck him down while chairing a Board meeting in 1975. His intellect and speech remained unimpaired but the severity of his paralysis confined him to a wheelchair and institutional care. This degree of dependence on others depressed him at times but he bore the limitations with fortitude and a continuing interest in the affairs of his friends and colleagues, and particularly of his former students and the changing pattern of medical practice. He developed other pursuits which he could accommodate, including Latin. The death of his dear wife was a blow from which he did not recover. He died suddenly on 30 November 1985, at the age of 83 years. He was the complete physician and a respected teacher who dedicated his life to his patients and the community.
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