Long-serving doctor dedicated to community

16:00, Nov 16 2012
Dr William Treadwell

Bill Treadwell served the people of Wellington's Northland suburb as their doctor for almost 50 years before his well-deserved retirement in 2007.

He was far more than the local doctor who served an army of loyal patients 24/7 from 1958 to 2007. He was also a long-serving director of the New Zealand Police Medical Service, treated Wellington's fire and customs officers and was at the forefront of sports medicine, particularly at Wellington's Athletic Park, where he treated injured rugby players for 40 years.

He had an empathy with all sportsmen and women, including the many jockeys he looked after, and in 1965 toured India and Pakistan as medical officer with John Reid's New Zealand cricket team.

During his work with the police, he instituted a regime of regular medical examinations and fitness tests. Dr Treadwell became known in the force as the author of "dear fatty" letters sent to serving police officers who found their girth expanding.

He began his association with the police in the early 1960s as a Wellington police surgeon working in areas such as sudden deaths, suicides and testing suspected drink-drivers.

He was born into a farming family outside Taihape and was educated at Ruanui School and Wanganui Collegiate. After leaving school, he completed a science degree at Victoria University, before going to the University of Otago's School of Medicine, graduating in 1955.


He met his wife, Lancely, a school teacher, in Wellington, where their first child, Anne, was born. In those days, Mrs Treadwell worked as a teacher in the Children's Ward of Wellington Hospital.

Daughter Anne, who died in 2000, was born profoundly deaf. Rather than send her to the Van Asch Deaf Education Centre in Christchurch for schooling, Dr Treadwell and his wife decided to keep her at home.

He chaired a group of parents of deaf children, which led to the establishment of deaf education units at several primary schools in Wellington.

He was a pioneer of sports medicine in Wellington and a significant part of his medical work involved treating sports people. He worked closely with jockeys, rugby players, cricketers, netballers and others.

He was a doctor who preferred to listen to people. He did nothing by halves and worked around the clock, looking after pregnant women and terminally ill people.

His most conspicuous role in the city was as the Wellington Rugby Football Union's honorary medical officer at Athletic Park.

He was often at the centre of nationwide news, as he was on July 29, 1989, when All Black flanker Michael Jones severely damaged a knee in the 19th minute of the second spell in a match against Argentina.

Dr Treadwell knew things were serious from the moment physiotherapist David Abercrombie deposited the deadweight of the classy Jones on his shoulder. He was proud of the way his medical team handled the Jones injury that day.

All Black doctor John Mayhew phoned an orthopaedic surgeon in Auckland, who arranged for Jones to be operated on the next day.

So promptly did Dr Treadwell's medical team act that Jones found himself tucked up in an Auckland Hospital bed awaiting a Sunday operation long before many Athletic Park spectators arrived home from their after-match celebrations.

Dr Treadwell began his honorary association with the park as the University club's doctor in 1959, before branching out to perform a similar role for the Wellington College Old Boys, Marist and Wellington clubs in 1960. During his 40-year stint at the park, he sat in the front seats of the official box alongside Winston McCarthy's broadcasting box.

There was no time for relaxation during a game. He was poised and always ready to jump into action from the lower official box area down to the spartan Gordon Kinvig medical room, below the Rintoul St grandstand.

All too often it was the heart attack and stroke victim action off the field, particularly among the 50-plus male spectator group, which would occupy his attention on big match days.

He dealt with six sudden deaths involving spectators at the ground.

The kids also provided him with fair share of much ankle and shin injury work after falling off fence posts and other permanent fixtures around the ground.

Dr Treadwell was usually called into action after the jet-black uniformed ambulance staff, with their peak caps and white-star plastered black briefcases, found themselves without the skills to look after more serious on-field injuries.

Like the zambucks, who were called to duty by three short sharp blasts on the referee's whistle, Dr Treadwell was officially allowed on the pitch when summoned by the referee.

However, if a player was in real trouble, the doctor was quickly at his side, whistle or no whistle.

The park and the citizens of Northland had no more dedicated and loyal a medical servant than Dr Treadwell.

Sources: Lancely Treadwell, former assistant police commissioner Lionel Stevens and Cheryl Norrie.

The Dominion Post