The GP who epitomised community care Dr Neil Algar QSO (1927 – 2021)
By Simone White, Senior Communications Advisor
14 March 2022
Category: College and members
Dr Neil Algar graduated from University of Otago’s medical school in 1953, after having received a BSc majoring in Chemistry from Victoria University of Wellington, which qualified him for acceptance into Otago University Medical School.
He moved back to Wellington in 1954 and took on a House Surgeon’s role for two years at Wellington Hospital, which was followed by a year at Ashburton Hospital as a Registrar before returning back to Wellington as an Anaesthetics Registrar.
During this time, in December 1953, Dr Algar married Eunice Jefferis and together they had four children, two daughters, Diana and Helen, and two sons, Tony and Michael.
In late 1957, Dr Algar was asked by a senior anaesthetist if he would be interested in role as a GP anaesthetist in Matamata, and this is where he called home for almost 60 years.
At the time there were two hospitals in Matamata, a maternity hospital and a small cottage hospital that had about 10 beds and according to Dr Algar, “the smallest operating theatre I ever worked in.”
When funding was donated by Mr Joseph Pohlen to build a new private hospital for Matamata, Dr Algar was invited to join the Pohlen Trust, and he was heavily involved from the initial planning, opening, and running of the hospital. Eventually, all of Matamata’s GPs joined together and worked from a new medical centre that was added to the building.
As well as his general practice consulting, Dr Algar kept himself busy and carrying out house calls and attending accident scenes, including the Kaimai Tunnel collapse in early 1970.
When the New Zealand branch of The Royal College of General Practitioners was created, Dr Algar became an Associate member. When The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners was established in 1974, GPs who became members were (and still are) assigned a College ID. Dr Algar is GP number 23. He became a Fellow of the College in 1984.
Dr Algar was very active within the College and undertook a number of roles, including sitting on the Committee of the Hamilton Faculty (which included a year as Chair) and the New Zealand Committee. Later, he became Treasurer and as part of this role, sat on the New Zealand Council.
Of his College involvement, Dr Algar said, “I regard this organisation as essential and it always amazes me the number of people who never take an active part, learning or contributing to the good of all members.”
He was also very active in the Matamata community and was part of many groups and initiatives, most notably becoming Mayor of Matamata in 1968 – a position he held for 18 years.
As Mayor, he was elected as a member of the Executive Committee of the Municipal Association, and from that, became a member of the National Water and Soil Conservation Authority.
Dr Algar’s wife, Eunice said, “At time, you’d have thought that Neil had a fulltime job in local government and water and soil matters, but of course, he was still a GP, anaesthetist, husband, and father.”
In 1982, despite his limited free time, Dr Algar became a member of the NZ Private Hospitals Association and was President of the Association between 1985 and 1987. In this role Dr Algar got to work with groups from around the country, including medical, long stay and surgical hospitals that ranged in ownership from trusts to fully private. This gave him great insights into the wider health system and the people being treated.
In recognition of his public service work, in 1983, Dr Algar was recognised with a Queen’s Service Order (QSO).
Note: we used the image of rosemary in this story to signify remembrance.