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Sir John Lewtas (Jack) Frew (1912–1985)

by Alan Gregory

This article was published:

Sir John Lewtas (Jack) Frew (1912-1985), physician, was born on 10 September 1912 at Carlton, Melbourne, son of Melbourne-born parents Joseph Davidson Frew, master mariner, and his wife Charlotte Lewtas, née Neale. Educated at Camberwell Grammar School and Scotch College, Jock (as he was known) studied medicine at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1935; MD, 1938) and gained Melbourne and Australian university Blues for Rugby. In 1932, as a student, he began a lifetime association with the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital, becoming a resident medical officer (1936), senior resident medical officer (1937) and medical superintendent (1938-41). On 24 July 1940 at Littlejohn [q.v.10] Memorial Chapel, Scotch College, he married Joyce Margaret Euphan Bell, also a medical practitioner.

On 1 March 1941 Frew was appointed a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force. He was sent to Malaya with the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. While a prisoner of war (from 1942), he treated soldiers and civilian labourers working on the Burma-Thailand Railway. His own health suffered. Repatriated in 1945, he was transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 5 December.

Establishing a private practice in Melbourne, Frew also resumed work at the RMH. Over coming years he held every post available to him at the hospital: honorary physician to out-patients (1946-57) and in-patients (1958-72), subdean of the clinical school (1947-55) and consultant physician (1972-85). He was also visiting specialist (1948-79) to the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg. With a Red Cross fellowship (1947) he worked on hypertension with Max (Lord) Rosenheim at University College Hospital, London; renal disease was another special interest. But it was as a general physician—`one of the last giants in general medicine’ (in Stanley Goulson’s words)—that his reputation grew.

A gifted teacher, Frew was a clinical instructor (1948-72) at the University of Melbourne’s faculty of medicine; his insistence on high standards was combined with sometimes teasing encouragement in preparing doctors for examination. Through the Colombo Plan and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (member 1938; fellow 1951), he advised on the development of medicine in India and South-East Asia. Powerful in medical circles, he was a natural leader and an outstanding administrator. He served as a member (1954-79), vice-president (1968-73) and president (1973-79) of the RMH committee of management, as well as chairman (1967) of the hospital’s medical staff. For the RACP he was censor (1956-66), censor-in-chief (1966-70), vice-president (1970­72) and president (1972-74). He was a member of the Medical Salaries Committee (1959-62), the Victorian Nursing Council (1963-74), the Australian Hospital Association (1977-79), the Victorian Hospitals Association (1974-79) and the National Health and Medical Research Council’s first medical research ethics committee (1982-84); a commissioner (1967-69) of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories; and chairman of the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee (1982-85) and the Freemasons Hospital board of management (1983-85).

Six ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall, and of distinguished appearance, a heavy smoker and an indefatigable worker, Frew could be difficult or charming, with an impish sense of humour. Appointed OBE in 1976 and knighted in 1980, he was a fellow (1960) of the Royal College of Physicians, London, and an honorary fellow of the Academy of Medicine of Singapore, the Australian Medical Association and the American College of Physicians. Increasingly, he regretted the loss of collegiality that accompanied specialisation in medicine, and in 1980 described himself as `one of the last relics of the old honorary system’. Away from work, he had a passion for watching cricket. Sir John died suddenly on 8 May 1985 at Tullamarine Airport and was cremated. His wife and son survived him. The Royal Melbourne Hospital established a scholarship in his name. It holds a portrait of Frew by Paul Fitzgerald, as does the RACP, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • J. C. Wiseman and R. J. Mulhearn (eds), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 2, 1976-90 (1994)
  • D. McCaughey, Tradition and Dissent (1997)
  • A. Gregory, The Ever Open Door (1998)
  • Royal Melbourne Hospital, Annual Report, 1984-85, p 37
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 Jan 1960, p 8
  • 31 Dec 1980, p 15
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 11 Nov 1985, p 467
  • private information.

Citation details

Alan Gregory, 'Frew, Sir John Lewtas (Jack) (1912–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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