Lively reunion

21 June 2012

The new spacious atrium of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences was buzzing with joy and laughter and the pleasure of finding friends as alumni arrived from all over New Zealand and even from overseas to be re-united with former class-mates and to see the new developments in their place of training.

“Time has been kind to you,” said Professor John Fraser, Dean of the Faculty, at the reception on the evening of Friday 1 June, bringing a burst of warm laughter that was right in tune with the spirit of the occasion.


This year’s invited guests were from six classes: the first-ever graduates from 1974; and the classes of 1982 and ‘87, ‘92 and ’97, and 2002, all celebrating significant anniversaries of their graduation, 30 years, 25, 20, 15 and 10 respectively.

Colour-coded name tags signifying the year made it easy for friends to find each other, which was just one of the small touches that made it a comfortable and well-organised event.

“I was surprised to see how happy and joyful everyone was ,” said event co-ordinator, Rebecca Brown. “People were bubbling over with friendliness and warmth, and eagerness to make contacts. Every event has a different atmosphere. This was a really emotional one. People were very happy to be there- but also quite sad when it drew to an end.”

Graduates of 1974 spoke with pleasure and nostalgia of the early days in the faculty, defined, as one of them said, by the classes and the people, not the buildings, since the surroundings were rather more humble at that time.

“There were only 60 students,” said Dr Bev O’Keefe, “We used to go to the Dean’s house for drinks.”

As a student Bev was asked to take part in a debate with two Otago Medical students on the subject of which was the best medical school. This, she said, she thinks of as her “first ambassadorial role” in a career that has seen her as Chair of General Practice New Zealand, a board member of the National Health Board, and a spokesperson in national negotiations.

Dr Susan Fleming said that as the first cohort of students in the new medical school, she and others felt they were part of an important experiment. “It was a really big deal to be there,” she said. Susan is an obstetrician and gynaecologist who was most recently Director of Women’s Health in Otago.

Many of these early students spoke with pride of Cecil Lewis, the first Dean of the new Auckland Medical School. 
Says Susan Fleming: “Cecil Lewis was a man of vision, who wanted to establish a School of Medicine that made room for the humanities rather than having an exclusive focus on biological medical science.

“The Dean wanted us to do things differently,” said Dr Roger Leitch, an Auckland GP with a professional interest in musculo-skeletal medicine. “At our interviews he was interested in asking about our hobbies and interests, what kind of people we were, as part of the decision about whether we would make good doctors.”

Also at the reunion was Jan Wakim, a junior lecturer in Biology at the new Auckland Medical School. (“She was not much more than a year or two older than the students,” said one of her colleagues from the time.)

Jan later resigned to go overseas but her personal ties with the Medical School remained strong, she said. “Three of my four children were delivered by former students. This is an important lesson to bear in mind,” she said with a smile, “that your students might play a role in your future.”

After the reception on the Friday night, attended by 110 people, came a day of events on the Saturday, including a welcome by the Dean, a question and answer session in the Auckland Medical Research Foundation lecture theatre, and group photographs for each of the classes, followed by a tour of the new teaching facilities, and class updates where some members of the class groups told others about their careers and experiences since graduation. Overall the reunion was attended by a total of 181.

A special pleasure for one of the guests, Dr Andrew Chancellor, a graduate of 1982, was to be guided on his tour of the teaching facilities by his son James, a current student.

On the Saturday evening were class reunion dinners at different restaurants around the city.