Otago Daily Times
Long list of achievements, contributions
DUNEDIN doctor Ted Nye could best be described as a polymath or Renaissance man — ‘‘a great scholar and person of much, varied learning’’.
The 90yearold retired physician, scholar, teacher, friend, activist and man of great humanity and humility died suddenly at his Dunedin home on February 1.
Primarily a medical practitioner throughout his long life, first in the United Kingdom then in New
Zealand, Dr Nye had a huge and varied range of interests.
From a young age he was fascinated by natural history, particularly entomology and, over the years, built up an extensive mosquito collection.
He gained a PhD in tropical medicine from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was an accomplished fencer, mastered the Swedish language which he also taught for many years, was a pioneering heart physician, helped establish the Antipodean Sherlock Holmes Society and set up the New Zealand division of the International Physicians Against Nuclear War.
During his 25year ‘‘retirement’’, he continued working in the cardiology department, as a physician at
Dunedin Hospital, at the Otago Community Hospice and with friend and colleague Dr Jim Mann.
In a formal tribute at Dr Nye’s funeral, Dr Mann said it was hardly surprising some of Dr Nye’s contributions had been recognised by several honours. He was appointed Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2003 for services to medicine and the community. And his contributions to Swedish culture were marked by the awarding of Knight of the Swedish Order of the Polar Star.
But Dr Mann said he was confident Dr Nye took on the things he did because he identified an unfulfilled need or felt something was inherently interesting and worthwhile, rather than because of a desire for recognition.
‘‘He was known to walk away from some of his creations before they had been fully acknowledged if the job seemed to have been done.’’
Born on June 22, 1926, in Liege, Belgium, where his father was working for a British company, Dr Nye was the eldest of three sons of Edwin and Hortencia Nye. The middle brother, Donald, died when only a few months old, but Richard — younger than Dr Nye by exactly 11 years — still lives in the UK.
The Nye family moved to Paris when Edwin was 6, returning to England in 1936. With the outbreak of World War 2 and evacuation to Devon, Dr Nye mastered probably his first science, astronomy, assuring local villagers a bright light they had spotted on the skyline towards the coast was not, as some of them believed, German spies signalling to Uboats, but the planet Venus.
As a schoolboy, back in London after the Blitz, he was interested in biology, particularly butterflies, and his intellectual pursuits already extended beyond science to reading Plato. He left school at 16 and began paid employment but continued studying for his matriculation so he could enter university.
On his 18th birthday, the already confirmed pacifist was called to the army and began his military training at Canterbury. He and his contemporaries never had to go into battle but after his training he was sent to India via Sardinia then to the Malay peninsula and Singapore just before the handback to the British. He drove buses when Singapore Traction Company drivers were on strike, relying on the passengers to tell him where to go.
The rigours of army life apparently did not preclude some of his other interests. With another naturalist, Russell Walker, he hunted local butterflies and succeeded in breeding them. At night, he and Mr Walker played music on a gramophone, using an unlimited supply of needles in the form of thorns from a nearby bush. Their only two records were some music by Delibes and ‘‘The Entry of the Nobles’’ from Wagner’s Tannhauser. Dr Nye was later involved with the Wagner Society in Dunedin.
After leaving the army in 1947, his years were filled with completing matriculation papers, gaining a BSc degree, working as a laboratory assistant at London’s Archway Hospital, taking up fencing, buying — for a pound — a book about mosquitoes and finally being accepted as a medical student at St Bartholomew’s Hospital.
During his medical student years, he achieved academic distinction, gained anatomy and physiology prizes and a fencing blue. And he continued his fascination with natural history, acquired an interest in guinea pigs and learned to pull teeth.
After graduating MB in 1956, Dr Nye held several junior hospital appointments before applying for a post as junior lecturer in entomology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He successfully completed his PhD and maintained his clinical skills but decided he did not wish to remain in Britain or pursue a career in tropical medicine.
Instead, he followed a lead from a contact and wrote to the Otago Medical School, where he took up a position as medical research officer to Sir Horace Smirk, an internationally known researcher in the field of hypertension.
After working with Sir Horace for a short time he was offered a job with John Hunter, who was later to become Professor of Medicine. For that role, Dr Nye had to extend his knowledge of lipids and lipoproteins, which he decided to study with Prof Lars Carlson in Stockholm. Thus began the Swedish connection, which subsequently played such an important role in his life.
A mutual Swedish friend, Prof Stephan Rossner, of Stockholm, wrote of the great respect in which Dr Nye was held for his research, his fencing and his masterly knowledge of the Swedish language. His translations of playwright August Strindberg (regarded as the father of modern Swedish literature) were regarded as exceptional. He also wrote his own poetry in Swedish and produced a SwedishEnglish dictionary of medical terminology.
Dr Nye’s work in Dunedin as a physician was ‘‘legendary’’, Dr Mann said. Having inherited many of his patients, he knew how much they loved and respected him, as did all of his colleagues.
But his most noteworthy wider medical contributions were in the fields of cardiac rehabilitation and preventive cardiology in which he, Prof Hunter and other Dunedin doctors became interested in the late 1960s.
In 1967, he established the Phoenix Club, a pioneering New Zealand hearthealth club focused on the importance of exercise therapy for heart attack patients, an approach which at the time was viewed worldwide as highly novel. Dr Nye was a life member of the New
Zealand Heart Foundation and remained an advocate for the Otago Therapeutic Pool (the physio pool), which played an integral part in the Phoenix Club’s approach.
He was involved in research related to the prevention of heart disease by treating cholesterol and other risk factors and participated in some of the first trials of statin drugs.
And he established what was probably the first register in the world of people with inherited cholesterol problems, although that was never able to fulfil its full research potential because the funding was discontinued. He recognised the phenomenon of the clustering of risk factors, now known as metabolic syndrome, and wrote a paper on the subject.
After his ‘‘socalled retirement’’, Dr Nye continued working in the cardiology department, as a physician in Dunedin Hospital and in the hospice, later reinventing himself as a parttime haematologist and, more recently, as a clinical triallist in the field of obesity, working with Patrick Manning.
He retained his strong interest in entomology, coauthoring in 1997 the biography of Nobel Prizewinning malariologist Sir Ronald Ross, and was a moving force behind an undergraduate module on tropical and travel medicine at the Dunedin School of Medicine. Several years ago, he gave his 400specimen mosquito collection to the Otago Museum where he was an honorary curator.
A champion fencer with a passion for the sport, which he had practised since his student days in London, Dr Nye represented OtagoSouthland teams for several years and competed for New Zealand against Australia in 1969.
The Ted Nye Trophy, contested annually, was established to raise funds for the Otago Community Hospice with which Dr Nye was involved for many years.
He was still enjoying fencing well into his 80s and had ‘‘an alarming collection of ancient swords’’, one of which he used to cut his 90th birthday cake last June.
Stepdaughter Kathryn Fitzpatrick spoke of Dr Nye’s love for and enjoyment of family. She recalled the ‘‘massive beam on his face’’ in a photo of him holding his new grandson, Jaz, in 1991, and she treasured the time her own two sons had spent with him and her mother over the years.
Dr Nye is survived by his son Bruce and grandchildren Jaz and Phoebe from his 1956 marriage to Pauline Mahalski, who died in 2015, and by his second wife, Jeanette Leigh, whom he married in Dunedin in 1984, her two daughters, Kathryn and Joanna, and Kathryn’s two sons, Daniel and Reuben. — Kay Sinclair