Peter William Odillo Maher 1936-2020
MBBS[Syd] FRCS[Eng] FRACS[Urol]
Peter was born into a medical family so there must have been a sense of tradition he followed in pursuing a career in Medicine. He was the second child of Cyril and Marjorie with an older brother Tony and a younger sister Anne and brother John. His early life was punctuated by the start of the Second World War and he was sent to the country to stay with his uncle in Murrurundi away from the family home in Rose Bay for fear of shelling by the Japanese. He returned to Sydney in time to remember the explosions in the harbour aimed at the mini submarines that had breached the defences.
His first school was the Christian Brothers College at Rose Bay and from there he went to Campion Hall which was a new school set up in the great house of Sir Alexander McCormick at the top of Point Piper. There were only two boys in his class and Peter became the head prefect for one year and then the head boy for the second. Obviously he was destined for a position of authority.
He was a boarder at St Ignatius Riverview where it was noted he was not particularly fond of chemistry and physics which possibly made him a little reluctant to enroll in medicine at Sydney University. However together with 600 students he enrolled in first year Medicine in 1954.
He was fully involved in university life, mixed up in protests, baiting the police on Commem Days and taking part in the University Revues. He also was happy to pursue a lifelong love of being a magician. He often performed at childrens parties and was known as “Murgatroid the Magician” but found an audience at the University a little daunting. He obviously often frequented Manning House in pursuit of a young lady with whom he had a chance meeting some time before at Whale Beach. Joanna Windeyer was doing science but was destined to be Mrs Maher as they were married after he graduated and completed his residency in 1961.
Peter was a student at Sydney Hospital and an entry in the Senior Year Book suggested he had a burning ambition to reach great heights in all that he undertook. They thought that was the reason why he took a job driving the elevator in the Pylon Lookout. It also noted that he was tall, stylish, good-natured and friendly and that he had the no-nonsense manner of a senior surgeon. How right they were, everyone who had the privilege of knowing Peter termed him the “gentle giant“ but not only because of his stature.
After a first year residency at Balmain Hospital, where incidentally he entertained them with his magic tricks, he went to St George Hospital as a Senior Resident Medical Officer. It didn’t take him long to make up his mind that surgery was his calling and he and Joanna decided that they would go to England to commence his surgical training. They booked a passage on a ship that took them through the Suez Canal and on to Europe. A trip to the Pyramids and then an overland trip to London, having disembarked at Piraeus, kindled a lifetime appetite for travel.
He was able to obtain a position as anatomy demonstrator at the Middlesex Hospital as Joanna’s father, Sir Brian Windeyer just happened to be the Dean of the Medical School. His first clinical appointment in Britain was at Kettering with a man who loved Australians Tommy Cullen. He encouraged Peter to pursue Urology as his specialty. His next appointment was at Newcastle upon Tyne with Professor John Swinney who was something of a legend in Urology in England at the time. Keith Yeates was also a senior member in the department so he was exposed to his chosen craft in one of the best training units in Urology outside The Institute of Urology in London.
After nearly 6 years Joanna and Peter decided to come home as they already had a daughter Katie, their first child. After a short stint at Sydney Hospital he was appointed as a Senior Registrar at Repatriation General Hospital at Concord. The untimely loss of Eric Parry created the post that covered Urology. He then took on the position of Staff Specialist which was often thought of as a different path to the old honorary medical system and its replacement by Visiting Medical Officers. So he became head of Urology at Concord ,a position he held for almost 30 years.
The hospital was a teaching hospital with a small number of students and it also became a much sought after accredited hospital for those on the Urological training scheme. Peter was a natural teacher in fact almost all those who had the benefit of working with him described him as an excellent tutor but moreover a friend. He ran a weekly course for registrars on a Saturday and is fondly remembered by all who attended. No one will forget his enormous collection of urinary calculi.
In 1975 he was elected as the New South Wales representative to the executive of the Urological Society of Australasia now USANZ. In 1978 he was made Honorary Secretary for three years.
About this time together with his family now numbering five with two more children, Vickie and Richie, he took a sabbatical at a hospital in The Bay area of San Francisco living at Walnut Creek. This was a wonderful experience especially for his young family. During his time in the USA he visited many of the major Urological centres around the country.
In 1989 he was elected to the Presidency of the Society that he served with distinction. He made what was thought at the time a brave decision to hold the Annual Scientific Meeting in Darwin and Kakadu. The meeting was the first of its kind in the Northern Territory and despite all the problems with logistics was an outstanding success.
In 1984 he was appointed an examiner in Urology and was made Chief Examiner in 1991. The same year he was appointed as Councillor to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons a position he held for five years. His reputation as an examiner was that he was very fair and the candidates for fellowship were not disturbed by his deep penetrating voice which in fact seemed to put them at ease.
He was a member of the Board of Recertification and CME and attended meetings of the Rural Doctors Association. In 1994 he played a major role on the organising committee for the successful Sydney meeting of The Societe Internationale d‘Urologie World Congress.
He richly deserved the Society bestowing on him the honour of Fellow in 1995. On receiving the award all he could say was “I love this Society”.
He also had another life besides medicine and was devoted to his family and six grandchildren. He was a junior member at Royal Sydney Golf Club in 1954 that he suspended whilst he was away overseas and rejoined and very much enjoyed the game at Rose Bay and also in Bowral. However he was known to say ”you should not worry about the handicap’’. He was an avid photographer and had an enormous collection of slides both medical and of the family. He was also a member of the Australian Club for 20 years and the Royal Society of Medicine where he stayed on his trips back to the UK.
One of the huge number of tributes to him stated “He is a great loss to the society group knowledge and sense of community”. For this reason he was involved for well over a decade in the Vintage Urology group that met twice yearly for lunch. The Urological Society was once a very close-knit group and involved the wives in social engagements at the annual scientific meetings so it was a popular decision to include them at the December luncheon. He really enjoyed the old “esprit de corps” and catching up with colleagues many from interstate and New Zealand. He had a great sense of humour and it was always a delight to be with him at any meeting.
We will miss him dearly.
The Society thanks David Golovsky for his time preparing this obituary.