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Joseph, Maurice Roy (1912–1996)

by Peter Gianoutsos

This article was published online in 2020

Maurice Roy Joseph (1912–1996), respiratory physician, was born on 29 July 1912 at Bondi, Sydney, eldest of four sons of locally born Jewish parents Henry Joseph, warehouseman and later businessman, and his wife Ailsey, née Davis. Maurice was educated at Bondi Public, Cleveland Street Intermediate High, and Fort Street Boys’ High schools. A member of the debating and first-grade tennis teams at Fort Street, he won prizes in physics, Latin, and French, and gained a university exhibition. He studied medicine at the University of Sydney (BSc, 1933; MB, BS, 1936), where he played first-grade hockey and was awarded the Renwick scholarship (1930, shared), the G. S. Caird scholarship (1931), and the Dr H. G. Chapman prize (1932). His three brothers—Neil, Lynn, and Douglas—would also graduate in medicine from the university.

Joseph placed first equal in his initial year at medical school and first in his second. Invited to take part in research at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, Northern Territory, by the professor of physiology, H. Whitridge Davies, he studied the physiology of Indigenous Australians for his science degree, which he obtained with first-class honours. Returning to his medical studies, he graduated with second-class honours. In 1936 and 1937 he was a resident at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH), and the following year he became an assistant lecturer in the department of pathology at his alma mater.

Travelling to England to undertake postgraduate study in 1939, he met Isabelle Mary Prentice, a nurse, on the voyage. On 12 September, nine days after World War II broke out, he was appointed as a lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps. His name was brought to notice for distinguished service (March–June 1940) in France and in the evacuation therefrom of British forces. On 24 January 1941 at the parish church of Holy Trinity, Shaftesbury, Dorset, he married Prentice. Specialising in pathology, he went on to serve in Britain and India, and on the Burmese border. He was promoted to temporary major (1943) and demobilised in 1945.

Admitted as a member of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in late 1945, Joseph returned to Sydney as supervisor of clinical studies at the RPAH in 1946. The same year he became a member of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP). Appointed to the honorary staff of the hospital in 1947, he also became a visiting physician at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, and later at Parramatta District Hospital, and started a private practice in Macquarie Street. He was granted a travelling scholarship by the University of Sydney in 1951, and spent six months visiting centres of respiratory medicine in Britain, Scandinavia, and the United States of America. The following year he joined RPAH’s department of thoracic medicine and was appointed lecturer in respiratory medicine in the department of medicine at the University of Sydney.

Elected a fellow of the RACP in 1954, Joseph became a fellow of the RCP in 1964. The same year he was chosen as Lord Horder memorial lecturer at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. From 1965 to 1968 he was chairman of the New South Wales State committee of the RACP. As the first Sir James Wattie guest professor for New Zealand in 1967, he spent a month lecturing and demonstrating in that country. Having been president of the Laennec Society (New South Wales) in 1957, he took the same role in its successor, the Thoracic Society of Australia, between 1968 and 1970. A member of the committee that prepared its constitution, he received honorary membership in 1977; in 1992 he would be awarded the society’s medal. In 1983 the University of Sydney presented him with its medal of convocation, and in 1988 conferred on him an honorary doctorate of medicine.

An accomplished thoracic physician, Joseph was involved in efforts to combat tuberculosis, and became an expert on asthma and lung cancer. A member of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health from its establishment, he warned against the smoking of cigarettes. Later in his career he became an authority on asbestos-related lung diseases, a topic on which his opinions were valued by legal professionals. His collection of slides of various lung diseases was famous, and he relished the opportunity to show a suitable slide at a key moment during meetings. He retired from the RPAH in 1970 and from private practice in 1993, but maintained his attendance at thoracic department meetings at both RPAH and Concord.

Described by Stanley Goulston as ‘the best all-rounder I have ever known’ (Goulston 2018), Joseph enjoyed music, literature, ballet, and drama, as well as a range of sporting activities. Among his leisure activities were horse-riding, polocrosse, surfing, tennis, skiing, and cross-country trekking, which he pursued with the Squirrel Club, a group that buried stores during the summer and retrieved them during winter treks near Mount Kosciusko. With his wife, he developed his cooking skills. Having gained a pilot’s licence at the age of fifty-six, he attained a silver C certificate as a glider pilot in his seventies. Aged eighty he undertook a parachute jump that he had thought too dangerous earlier in his life. He possessed his own plane, and belonged to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Australia. For sixteen years he regularly flew to Coffs Harbour to provide a consultant practice.

‘A small, slight, charming, modest man with a faraway look in his eyes’ (Boag 1996, 20), Joseph was ‘a compassionate, caring, [and] humane doctor’ (Goulston 1996, 35). He always valued ‘his Jewish heritage’ (Goulston 2018), supporting students attending the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and was ‘able to accept a changing world while retaining the traditions and values of the old’ (Goulston 2018). Convivial and witty, he made numerous friends and was devoted to his family. Having flown from Perth, where he had attended a meeting of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, he died on 29 March 1996, shortly after landing at Ceduna, South Australia. His wife and their two daughters and one son survived him. A ward at the RPAH’s Page Chest Pavilion had been named for him in 1985.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Boag, Charles. ‘A Long Life and a Love of Flying.’ Medical Observer Business, June 1996, 20
  • Brasch, R. Australian Jews of Today and the Part They Have Played. Stanmore, NSW, and North Melbourne, Vic.: Cassell Australia, 1977
  • ‘Curriculum Vitae of Maurice Roy Joseph.’ 1988. University of Sydney Archives
  • Ferrier, Spencer. ‘Obituary Maurice Joseph 1912–1996.’ Presentation at memorial service, 1996. University of Sydney Archives
  • Goulston, Stanley J. ‘Eulogy For Maurice Joseph.’ Thoracic Society News 7, no. 2 (June 1996): 35
  • Goulston, Stanley J. ‘Joseph, Maurice Roy.’ College Roll. Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Last modified 30 May 2018. Accessed 17 February 2020. https://www.racp.edu.au/about/college-roll/college-roll-bio/joseph-maurice-roy. Copy held on ADB file
  • Lee, Julian. ‘Presentation of The Society Medal.’ Thoracic Society News 3, no. 2 (June 1992): 20
  • Seale, J. P. ‘Maurice Joseph (1912–1996).’ Occasional paper, Australian Lung Foundation, 1996. Private collection
  • Ward, J. M. ‘Degree of Doctor of Medicine (Honoris Causa).’ 1988. University of Sydney Archives

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Peter Gianoutsos, 'Joseph, Maurice Roy (1912–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/joseph-maurice-roy-23688/text32632, published online 2020, accessed online 13 April 2021.

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