Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Death of Armidale's Dr Harold Royle

My thanks to Gordon Smith for drawing my attention to the death of Dr Harold Royle who died on 21 March 2008 aged ninety.

I did not really know Dr Royle. I remember him as a good looking, almost patrician man, who built a large new house in a then new area of Armidale on South Hill overlooking the city. As is so often the case, his obituary in the The Armidale Express provided insights into Doctor Royle and his role that were simply unknown to me. The obituary also provides insights into the evolution of medical services in the post war period.

The story starts by noting that the much respected Dr Harold Royle who died last week would be remembered by Hunter New England Health staff as the man who started pathology services in Armidale and effectively promoted the medical library service.

Retired pathologist Dr Arthur Beresford said Dr Royle was regarded as a leader and senior doctor by his colleagues.

Dr Beresford recalls the efforts of Dr Royle in developing pathology services from scratch and his keen interest in library services and ongoing medical education.

“In the years of the late 1950s to mid-1970s he was emeritus pathologist, campaigning to have me appointed as a specialist pathologist in 1975.

“Dr Royle was heavily involved in medical education and actively promoted the development of a medical library service.

“A basic library was established but was without the presence of a qualified librarian until the 1980’s on a part time basis.” The library was named in Dr Royle's honour in 1987 in recognition of his services.

Carol Higginbottom, practice manager at Dr Royle’s old practice, in her research of Dr Royle, found he graduated from Sydney University in 1941, married Joan Zouch a theatre nurse in 1942 and signed up for the Army Medical Corps, serving in both New Guinea and Singapore.

On his return he ran the dermatology ward at Hearne Bay Military Hospital in Sydney and moved to Armidale in 1946, where he worked primarily as a GP until poor health demanded his early retirement in 1988.

“Dr Royle started a pathology laboratory at the Armidale Hospital on August5 , 1946 with a bit of glassware acquired from Hearne Bay Hospital and his student microscope,” Mrs Higginbottom said.

“In November 1946 he gained a pathology assistant and eventually in 1953, a full time technician was appointed.

“He continued helping at the weekends with blood work and started the first blood donors’ club in Armidale, often having to drive to the blood donors’ homes to take blood.”

When I looked at this short obituary I was struck by two things.

The first was the presentation of a picture I have so often seen before, the way in which so many people improvised to get things done. This held not just in the immediate post war period, but in fact over most of Australian history. The second was the continuing role of the individual in achieving change.

My thoughts are with his wife Joan and his children Margaret, Anne, and David.

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