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Dods, Sir Lorimer Fenton (1900–1981)

by John Yu

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Sir Lorimer Fenton Dods (1900-1981), physician and professor of child health, was born on 7 March 1900 at New Farm, Brisbane, elder child of Robert Smith Dods, an architect born in New Zealand, and his American-born wife Mary Marian, née King. Moving to Sydney with his family when he was 14 years old, Lorimer attended Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore), North Sydney, and St Paul’s College, University of Sydney (MB, Ch.M., 1923; MD, 1936). After working as a resident medical officer at Newcastle Hospital in 1923-24 and at Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in 1925, he entered general practice at Edgecliff, where his interest in paediatrics grew over the next ten years. He married Margaret (Margot) Kathleen Walsh on 26 February 1927 at St Alban’s Church of England Chapel, The Southport School, Queensland.

Appointed to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Camperdown, in 1928 as a temporary honorary relieving medical officer, Dods became an honorary assistant physician in 1937. The previous year he had gone overseas for further studies in England at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital under Professor (Sir) Leonard Parsons, and had gained the diploma in child health issued jointly by the Royal College of Physicians, London, and the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He had also visited the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada. On returning to Sydney he commenced consultant practice in Macquarie Street and was appointed medical tutor in clinical paediatrics by the University of Sydney. His papers in publications such as the Medical Journal of Australia were to remain models of concise scientific prose.

Dods had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1918 but had seen no action. On 13 October 1939 he was appointed major, Australian Army Medical Corps, AIF. He sailed in January 1940 with the first convoy transporting Australian troops to the Middle East, where he was attached to the 2/1st Australian General Hospital. From March 1942 he served in hospitals in Australia, except for the period January-May 1943, when he was in Port Moresby. Demobilised on 20 March 1945 as a lieutenant colonel, he returned to the Royal Alexandra Hospital and became a full physician in 1948. His wartime friendships helped the hospital in later years when comrades in arms who had achieved distinction in the business life of Sydney became directors and benefactors.

In 1947 Dods was awarded a Carnegie travelling fellowship that enabled him to visit the Children’s Hospital, Boston, in the United States of America. On returning to Sydney he shared his knowledge and insights, and encouraged young doctors to investigate childhood diseases using the newest research tools. Medical associates quickly became his friends and he used this network to ensure that his registrars were able to obtain appropriate experience overseas to complete their training. His interest in and affection for his young colleagues was envied by others.

Australia had no university chairs in paediatrics. After the war the Commonwealth government responded to this need by establishing the Institute of Child Health within the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine of the University of Sydney. In 1949 Dods was appointed as the founding director of the institute and the first professor of child health in the country. Subsequently he worked successfully for the establishment of chairs in other Australian medical schools. He retired from his own chair in 1960 to concentrate his energies on promoting and facilitating research at the hospital. With Dr John Fulton, general medical superintendent of Royal Alexandra, and Douglas Burrows, honorary treasurer of the board and later president, he had marshalled public support to establish the Children’s Medical Research Foundation in 1958. For the next twenty years he guided and nurtured the foundation as honorary director and chairman. He retired on his eightieth birthday, leaving the foundation with a sound financial base.

Dods’s association with the hospital had spanned fifty years. He was elected to the board of management in 1959. His influence was immense and little happened at the hospital without his involvement. During his time there could be no greater accolade than to be medical registrar to the professorial unit—Lorimer’s registrar. He had a very busy practice but he knew everyone and greeted all at the hospital with a cheerful salute. To walk the corridors with him was like a royal progress. In later years he became a prodigious letter writer, although his handwriting was often indecipherable. His work with children extended beyond Camperdown. He was an honorary consulting paediatrician to the Royal North Shore Hospital, the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington, and the Tresillian Homes run by the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, and he served on the board of the New South Wales Society for Crippled Children from 1955 to 1962.

A foundation fellow (1938) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Dods was a councillor (1956-65) and chairman (1957-63) of the research advisory committee. In 1965 he was made an honorary fellow of the (Royal) Australian College of General Practitioners. The respect he engendered greatly helped to establish the new specialty of paediatrics. A founding father of the Australian Paediatric Association (later the Australian College of Paediatrics), he became its secretary-treasurer (1950-51), vice-president (1953-54) and president (1954-55). He was chairman (1965-68) of the publication board of the Australian Paediatric Journal, and on his seventieth birthday an issue of the journal was dedicated to him. Appointed MVO in 1947, he was knighted in 1962. He received an honorary doctorate of science from the University of Sydney in 1974 and was further honoured when the title of Lorimer Dods Professor was conferred on the director of the Children’s Medical Research Foundation.

At university he had been a rowing Blue and had excelled at skiing. In 1968 he listed his interests as gardening, surfing and antiques. Well read, he enjoyed making literary allusions in his medical writings. He was a warm and charming man whose wisdom and knowledge continued to pervade paediatrics through the many who were influenced by his teaching and his example. Above all, he was kindly Dr Dods, the children’s friend, or, as Sir Edward Ford dubbed him, `the ambassador for the children’. Sir Lorimer died on 7 March 1981 at Potts Point and was cremated. His wife had died in 1977; their daughter and son survived him. A portrait (1964) by Vladas Meskenas is hung near the Lorimer Dods lecture theatre at the Children’s Hospital, Westmead, and one (1968) by Judy Cassab is located in the foyer of the research facilities of the Children’s Medical Research Institute, Westmead.

Select Bibliography

  • D. G. Hamilton, Hand in Hand (1979)
  • R. Manchester, Beloved Physician (1989)
  • Australian Paediatric Journal, vol 6, no 1, 1970, p 3
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Mar 1981, p 11
  • AMA Gazette, Apr 1981, p 27
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 2 May 1981, p 441
  • Royal Australasian College of Physicians, College Newsletter, Aug 1981, p 1
  • H. de Berg, interview with Lorimer Dods (transcript, 1968, National Library of Australia)
  • series B2455, item Dods Lorimer and series B883, item NX35 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

John Yu, 'Dods, Sir Lorimer Fenton (1900–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dods-sir-lorimer-fenton-12426/text22341, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 30 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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