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Morrow, Sir Arthur William (Bill) (1903–1977)

by Neil Gallagher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Arthur William Morrow (1903-1977), by unknown photographer, 1945

Arthur William Morrow (1903-1977), by unknown photographer, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 116301

Sir Arthur William (Bill) Morrow (1903-1977), physician, was born on 12 July 1903 at East Maitland, New South Wales, only child of native-born parents Arthur John Morrow, commercial traveller, and his wife Helonar, née Harkin. Educated at Newington College, Sydney, Bill coxed the winning VIII in the 'Head of the River' regatta (1921) and won an exhibition at the Leaving certificate examinations. He entered the University of Sydney (M.B., B.S., 1927) and graduated with first-class honours. A contemporary, writing in the Senior Year Book (1926), noted his 'livewire' personality and 'rapier like intelligence'. Morrow was active in student affairs and had a range of interests beyond medicine; he was adept at bridge and ballroom dancing, and enjoyed sailing and tennis.

Appointed a junior resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1927, Morrow held the post of deputy clinical superintendent in 1932, but left that year for London where he was admitted to membership (1933) of the Royal College of Physicians (fellow 1949). In 1944 he rejoined R.P.A.H. as an honorary assistant-physician. At St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney, on 24 November 1937 he married with Methodist forms Jean Buchanan Brown (d.1971); they were to live at Bellevue Hill.

In 1929 Morrow had been commissioned captain, Australian Army Medical Corps. On 1 May 1940 he was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force. That month he was promoted lieutenant colonel and placed in charge of the medical division of the 2nd/5th Australian General Hospital, which sailed for the Middle East in October. The 2nd/5th arrived in Greece on 12 April 1941, but ten days later began to withdraw due to the German invasion. Morrow led a party which embarked for Crete where he administered command of the reassembled unit. In mid-May the 2nd/5th was evacuated to Egypt. For his leadership, organization and calmness in the face of enemy aerial attacks, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches.

Returning to Australia in March 1942, Morrow commanded (from May) the 121st A.G.H. at Katherine, Northern Territory. In March 1943 he was appointed assistant director general of medical services at Land Headquarters, Melbourne. Next month he was promoted temporary colonel. As consulting physician attached to Advanced L.H.Q., he visited operational areas in New Guinea, New Britain, Bougainville and Borneo in 1945. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 23 December.

Morrow came back to R.P.A.H. as he had left it—an honorary assistant-physician. To the senior medical staff he was still 'young' Morrow. He was to be appointed an honorary physician in 1952 and a consultant in 1963. He also became a consultant at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, and at Canterbury District, Marrickville and Western Suburbs hospitals. While he achieved many of his ambitions, perhaps his most enduring success lay in persuading a reluctant administration and senior medical staff at R.P.A.H. to agree to the formation of a gastroenterology unit. In 1949 a compromise was reached in which the unit was awarded consultative status although denied admission rights. A single room was made available and, with the support of his friend Philip Bushell, funds were provided for a trainee registrar and secretary. Morrow and Stanley Goulston, an enthusiastic younger colleague, soon began to raise the standards of practice in gastroenterology, and other hospitals in Australia and New Zealand began to send aspiring gastroenterologists for training. Further private funding led to a larger area, a well-equipped laboratory, and the establishment of research programmes.

Rebuilding his consultant practice, Morrow filled the role of the 'compleat' physician with ease and style. Physically he was not a large man, but he had a dignified presence which was accentuated by close attention to his tailoring. Many of his younger colleagues felt, for a time, either inhibited or disconcerted by this aura. Patients found him courteous and often charming. His concern and tolerance made him a ready listener and he was quick to pick up clues leading to successful diagnoses. Decisiveness was an integral part of his professional life. Remarkably self-disciplined, he rose before daybreak to write letters, read medical journals and prepare for early morning consultations. He felt a particular obligation to meet the requests of doctors and their families.

The intellectual satisfaction of diagnosis was not enough for Morrow. He always wanted to cure or at least relieve. From 1935 to 1963 he lectured in therapeutics at the University of Sydney. He excelled at teaching medical students. His tutorials were relaxed and drew on his wide clinical experience. The hint of a frown at an inattentive student was a potent means of refocusing attention. He frequently took part in courses arranged for general practitioners and specialists, and chaired the Postgraduate Committee of Medicine of the University of Sydney. During meetings, 'he was never aggressive and won through by persuasion that caused no offence and left no hurt'. He invariably acknowledged the importance of successful teamwork in his achievements.

A foundation member (1938) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Morrow wielded great influence. As a member (1950-66) of its board of censors, and as censor-in-chief (1962-66), he proved an excellent examiner, being aware of the necessity to maintain standards while remaining consistent and fair-minded. As president (1966-68) of the college, he inspired loyalty, respect and affection. He was also president (1957-58) of the State branch of the British Medical Association. In later years he was appointed a member (1963) and chairman (1967) of the Commonwealth government's Australian Drug Evaluation Committee; he was also a member of its Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.

Morrow's achievements in gastroenterology were widely recognized in Australia and abroad. In 1959 he was knighted. Foundation president (1957-58) of the Gastroenterological Society of Australia, he prevailed on the Bushell Trust to establish a lectureship so that distinguished overseas gastroenterologists could be invited to attend national meetings. In 1961 the directors of R.P.A.H. agreed that the gastroenterology unit should be called the A. W. Morrow department of gastroenterology.

Sir William had numerous friends and acquaintances outside his profession. He valued his membership of the Australian Club and served as president (1973-75) at a time when the club's premises in Macquarie Street were demolished and rebuilt. The governor-general, Field Marshal Sir William (Viscount) Slim, periodically sought his opinion on public issues by asking 'what does the Australian Club think of that?' A member of the Royal Sydney Golf and Australian Jockey clubs, Morrow regarded weekend golf with friends as an imperative and found the racecourse another welcome diversion. On 31 July 1974 at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, he married Margaret Mary Chauvel, née Fairfax, a 64-year-old widow. Survived by his wife and by the three daughters of his first marriage, he died on 22 August 1977 in St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

In 1994 the A. W. Morrow chair in medicine was established at the University of Sydney. Portraits of Morrow by Howard Barron and by Graeme Inson are held respectively by the R.A.C.P., Sydney, and R.P.A.H.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Middle East and Far East (Canb, 1953)
  • A. S. Walker, The Island Campaigns (Canb, 1957)
  • Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, vol 7 (Lond, 1984)
  • J. R. Angel, The Australian Club 1838-1988 (Syd, 1988)
  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 2 (Syd, 1994)
  • Sydney University Medical Society, Senior Year Book (Syd, 1926)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 13 Jan 1979
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Aug 1977
  • Sir George Stening, funeral oration (typescript, held by Royal Australasian College of Physicians Library)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Neil Gallagher, 'Morrow, Sir Arthur William (Bill) (1903–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morrow-sir-arthur-william-bill-11178/text19919, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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