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Sunday, September 27th, 2020

Hunter loses a healer: Dr Peter Hendry dies aged 102

by September 28, 2017 General

PETER Hendry, the prisoner of war survivor, pioneering blood doctor and one of Newcastle’s most treasured people, has died aged 102.

Dr Hendry passed away on Saturday, September 16, his family has confirmed. His funeral is expected to be held next week amid a sea of well-wishers from across society.

In a life that spanned a century and rained achievements, Dr Hendry was president of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia for three years in the 1970s and a founding member and director of the Blood Bank who became an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1985. 

After arriving in Newcastle – a city he wasn’t impressed by, at first – in 1947 as a clinical pathologist, he ran a private practice until he was 85, established Hampson Pathology in 1956, co-authored a book still considered groundbreaking in clinical pathology and pioneered life-saving techniques for blood transfusions in dying babies.

And for a man who weathered the cut and thrust of being University of Newcastle deputy chancellor longer than anyone else, Dr Hendry is also remembered for his silence.

Of his time as a World War II Captain in the 2/10 Field Ambulance and a prisoner of the Japanese at Changi and Burma, Dr Hendry’s close friend Dr Bernard Curran said he took years to open up.

Talk of the war, friends knew, was cordoned off. But over time, in snatches, that changed.

“I was amazed when he answered my question about his reaction to the surrender. He was in a cathedral in Singapore which had been converted into a hospital,” Dr Curran said.

“He went to hell when he went to Changi and he came out of it a changed man. Having seen the worst of men, he emerged as a believer in the best of humanity.”

In a job that involved disposing of the dead he became known for his dedication and humour.

It was a bone-deep optimism that his wife Senta Taft-Hendry – a tribal art collector and global adventurer who died in 2015 – would tease him about.

“He’s very sanctimonious. I’m not allowed to say anything unkind about anybody. If I have something to say unkind, he say I don’t say anything at all,” she told the Newcastle Herald in 2013.

“But I adore him. He’s a beautiful man. He’s a magnificent character. I love him so much.”

They were widely regarded as the Hunter’s most fascinating couple; she the German-born oldest commercial pilot in the country into her 80s, he the doctor who had advanced the frontier of his chosen strand of medicine.

Newcastle is considered a national leader in blood transfusion good practice, and that is credited to Dr Hendry and the principles he enshrined with the Blood Bank in 1947.

A key tenet was that the Blood Bank was a consultation service, and wouldn’t simply issue blood on doctors’ requests.

“These principles still pertain to blood transfusion management in the public hospitals in Newcastle,” Dr Ross Kerridge, of the Newcastle University School of Medicine and Public Health, said.

“His ideas were taken up by others. As a result, patients in Newcastle have tended to be transfused conservatively compared to most places in Australia, even into the 21st Century. Interestingly, research in the two decades since the mid-1990s has vindicated Peter’s ideas.”

Until Dr Hendry’s final years in aged care he would walk from his home in Merewether and swim in the ocean baths. He played golf at Stockton on Wednesdays.

In June 2015 he marked his 100th birthday by dining with Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, before his family threw him a party at Scratchley’s on a bright winter’s day.