Ross Bailey, one of New Zealand’s most eminent nephrologists and an inspiration to years of undergraduate medical students in Christchurch and to decades of house officers, registrars and senior staff colleagues, drowned while swimming in the ocean in Sri Lanka during a meeting of the International Council of Nephrology.
He received his schooling in Christchurch, New Zealand, and then had a distinguished undergraduate career, receiving a number of awards and obtaining the highest aggregate marks in the final MB ChB examination at the University of Otago Medical School in 1964. Encouraged by Peter J Little, he embarked on a career in nephrology at the Christchurch Hospital. From 1969 to 1971 he was senior medical registrar and research fellow in the department of medicine, Charing Cross Hospital, London, where he expanded his interest in urinary tract infection in collaboration with H E de Wardener. He then became a research fellow in nephrology at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, before returning to Christchurch as a consultant nephrologist in 1972, taking over the headship of the department in 1979.
Along with colleagues in the departments of nephrology and radiology at Christchurch Hospital, he carried out research clarifying relationships of vesico-ureteric reflux to urinary tract infection and chronic pyelonephritis and hence contributed considerably to defining and characterizing the natural history of reflux nephropathy. He had a particular research and clinical interest in the treatment of urinary tract infection with the use of single-dose or short-term antimicrobial administration. His research interests continued unabated, resulting in around three hundred publications in refereed journals, along with contributions to major textbooks, including the Oxford textbook of clinical nephrology (Oxford University Press, 1992) and the Oxford textbook of medicine (Oxford University Press, 1983).
Ross Bailey was much sought after as a speaker at scientific meetings around the globe and in recent years he found it possible to accept only a minority of such invitations. He was elected to the International Council of Nephrology and worked hard as a member of a sub-committee whose main emphasis was on enhancing the development of nephrology services and teaching in the Asia-Pacific area.
Despite his heavy clinical workload, he loved contact with patients. Indeed, he was greatly revered by his patients, not only for his clinical skills, but for his interest in their general life status which might include the state of their farm, the chances of a certain horse coming home in an upcoming race meet, or the stakes for next weekend’s rugby test.
Ross Bailey appeared eternally cheerful and optimistic, even when protesting vigorously and explicitly against New Zealand’s health reforms, or when defending patient rights. He was also a fierce defender of everything New Zealand, particularly Christchurch, especially when it came to matters of medical research or sporting competition. He himself coached and played field hockey and cricket until his death. Earlier he had represented the New Zealand provinces of Otago and Canterbury, as well as New Zealand Universities and the South Island, in field hockey. Somehow he found time to breed and train standard-bred trotting horses.
He married his wife Lesley in 1964 and they had four children. His death came as a resounding blow to all who had come in contact with him. A special service for him at Christchurch Cathedral was attended by many friends, patients and colleagues, the congregation overflowing into the square outside.
M G Nicholls