Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Richard Maxwell (Dick) Gibson (1921–1980)

by Margaret Henry

This article was published:

Richard Maxwell (Dick) Gibson (1921-1980), physician, was born on 21 December 1921 at Strathfield, Sydney, third of four sons of Norman Maxwell Gibson, a medical practitioner from Queensland, and his Sydney-born wife Dorothea Mary Agnes, née Burkitt. Educated at Trinity Grammar School, Summer Hill, and at Wesley College, University of Sydney (M.B., B.S., 1944), Richard was appointed resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1944. At St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 28 December 1945 he married Alison Ruth Macfarlane, a physiotherapist. In 1945-46, as a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, he served in the hospital ship, Manunda, and at the 113th Military Hospital, Concord.

After a brief period in general practice at Bathurst, in 1948 Gibson joined the staff of (Royal) Newcastle Hospital as resident medical officer, becoming registrar next year. In 1951 he was admitted to membership (fellow 1968) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. As staff physician in the hospital's department of medicine from 1954, he was associated with cardiology, psychiatry, gastroenterology and paediatrics. He was appointed director of the department in 1961 and director of geriatric medicine in 1970.

Gibson's absorbing interest in the discipline of geriatrics arose from a survey which he and Grace Parbery (a social worker) had conducted into the needs of disseminated-sclerosis sufferers in the Hunter Valley in 1950. In partnership with Parbery and a multi-disciplinary team, and with the support of the medical superintendent Christian McCaffrey, he pioneered a hospital-based service for treating chronically disabled and elderly people, integrating the facilities of the hospital and the community. Known as the 'Newcastle Experience', it incorporated in-patient care and a wide range of domiciliary services, including home nursing, housekeeping, an equipment loan service, the adaptation of dwellings, a retraining unit and a day centre. Gibson promoted correct diagnosis, careful assessment of social needs, good clinical management, rehabilitation and maintenance. Close liaison was maintained with the patient's family doctor and relations, whom Gibson regarded as members of his team.

He enthusiastically advocated the 'Newcastle Experience' on economic, medical and compassionate grounds, interstate and overseas, in the media and at conferences. A member of the advisory committee of the Hospitals Commission of New South Wales, Gibson was a foundation member and president of the Australian Association of Gerontology, a founder and council-member of the Australian Geriatrics Society, chairman (Asia-Oceania region) of the International Association of Gerontology and a member of the National Advisory Council for the Handicapped. In 1965 he was appointed O.B.E. He co-ordinated (from 1973) programmes for chronic disability in the Hunter region for the Health Commission of New South Wales and became regional geriatrician in 1974.

A tall, imposing man, Dick Gibson inspired loyalty in his staff, and confidence and affection in his patients. After his marriage was dissolved in October 1977, he married a divorcee Judith Clift Adams, née Adams, on 17 December that year at the Newcastle registry office. He died of a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm on 23 May 1980 at Royal Newcastle Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites; his wife survived him, as did the son and three daughters of his first marriage. The service he and his team developed was at the national forefront and abreast of that in Britain. His work influenced the direction of geriatrics in Australia and is commemorated by the annual Dick Gibson lecture at the University of Newcastle, the R. M. Gibson travelling fellowship and the R. M. Gibson Scientific Research Fund, all sponsored by the Australian Association of Gerontology.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Sax (ed), The Aged in Australian Society (Syd, 1970)
  • H. Attwood and R. W. Home (eds), Patients, Practitioners and Techniques (Melb, 1984)
  • L. Butler (ed), Chris McCaffrey (Newcastle, NSW, 1985)
  • Royal Newcastle Hospital, Annual Report, 1949-81
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 5 Oct 1957, p 485
  • Lancet, 2, 1965, p 284
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 26 May 1980
  • Gibson papers (University of Newcastle Library).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Margaret Henry, 'Gibson, Richard Maxwell (Dick) (1921–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 December, 1921
Strathfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


23 May, 1980 (aged 58)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.