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Dr B W T Ritchie - biography

Brian William Thomas ‘Tommy’ Ritchie was born in South Canterbury in 1915. His early education was at ‘The Pines’ in Timaru, a five mile pony ride to and from school. His secondary school education was at Timaru Boys’ High School, where he was head boy and captained the 1st XV rugby team and 1st XI cricket team.


Following in his father’s footsteps, Tommy Ritchie went to St John’s College at Cambridge University in 1935, quite an adventure for a South Canterbury lad in those days, not least the six-week ship voyage to get to England.


He graduated in 1938 with a BA Hons in natural sciences. While at Cambridge, he studied physics under Lord Rutherford, and was introduced to Albert Einstein while on a rugby tour to the United States (sponsored by Phillip Morris cigarettes!). He captained the St John’s College rugby XV, tennis VI and the university XV on its US tour. While on the latter, he was possibly responsible (neither confirm nor deny) for blackening John F Kennedy’s eye in the scrum when they overwhelmed Harvard 50-0.


After graduating, Tommy Ritchie studied clinical medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, qualifying MB BS in 1941. Various house appointments during the war led to the position of resident anaesthetist at St Thomas’.


The formation of the BWT Ritchie Scholarship may have been in part due to the fact that in those days no stipend was paid until one was fully qualified, laundry facilities were provided but it was expected that ‘private means’ enabled survival.


Tommy Ritchie wrote: “The Second World War made our clinical studies somewhat abnormal as the bombing disrupted the functioning of the hospital with numerous evacuations to Surrey and the Home Counties. I often acted as chauffeur to the senior obstetric and gynaecological consultant while attending classes out of London and he would teach me while we weaved our way in and out of London during or after a blitz.”


In 1944, the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) sent him to the north of England, where he was appointed consultant anaesthetist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle as well as at Shotley Bridge Hospital, Freeman Hospital and as a clinical tutor at Newcastle University.


Rugby and cricket continued during the war: he captained St Thomas’ Hospital XV and XI, the London United Hospitals XV and XI, played for the Barbarians and captained the North of England XV against Charlie Saxton’s New Zealand Expeditionary Force XV.


While in the north-east he met his future wife, Jessie Gilbert Carter, who was in the WAAF as a senior cipher officer. They married in Cambridge in 1946 in an ‘austere’ wedding due to rationing. Returning to New Zealand with his new wife, he decided opportunities were greater in England and returned to the north-east.


Simon (1948) and Julia (1950) were born before Jessie died in an automobile accident in 1951. With motherless young children, a nanny, ‘Miss Blackley’ was dispatched from New Zealand to help. ‘Miss Blackley’ became Mrs Ritchie, and Jonathan (1956) and James (1959) followed.



Retiring from the NHS (National Health Service) in 1981, Tommy and Prue moved back to New Zealand and lived in Masterton. Tommy died in 1992, Prue in 1993, both predeceased by Julia in a boating tragedy in Taiwan in 1990.



Dr Ritchie set up the BWT Ritchie Scholarship in 1991, with a $200,000 gift to a trust for that purpose – the capital to be retained with the net income on the capital to be used to fund the scholarships. Jonathan Ritchie has been an advisory trustee since the trust’s inception, as were his parents until they died.


The first recipient was Dr Charles Minto of Christchurch who undertook a provisional fellowship year at Stanford University. While records are not complete, since then at least 21 others have received scholarship grants and have studied mainly in the UK and USA, but also in Canada, Australia and South Africa.


Dr Ritchie clearly considered there were benefits in having New Zealand anaesthetists study overseas and bringing their extended knowledge back to New Zealand. The trust deed establishing the scholarship stipulates that the grant is intended to enable overseas experience but with the scholar expected to return to New Zealand for at least three years to work in anaesthesia or intensive care, which was not then catered for through a separate college.