John Henry Taylor was born John Henry Towle at 11 Marlborough Place, London, England, on 21st January, 1912. He was the youngest child of Arthur Edward Towle and Mabel Ethel Towle (nee Taylor). His father was Manager of the Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras Station, part of Europe’s biggest hotel empire, the Midland Hotels Group, of which his grandfather, William Towle, was Controller. His parents became estranged while he was quite young and he grew up with his mother, Mabel Ethel Taylor. They experienced a somewhat peripatetic existence, moving around Kent and Sussex as the mood took his mother. When he was 12, his parents divorced and, like his mother, once of age, he changed his name to Taylor. Having initially travelled and worked in North America after leaving school – an early indication of a curiosity about the world which was to be an enduring aspect of his personality – he was persuaded by a family friend in medical practice to train as a doctor.
Soon after the outbreak of the second World War he qualified as an anaesthetist, and was called up to join the Royal Army Medical Corps in January 1941, embarking for overseas in February 1941. He subsequently served as a specialist anaesthetist in mobile and field service units throughout the period of hostilities in the Western Egypt and European theatres, being demobilized in June 1946 with the rank of Major.
In Spring 1945, just after the cessation of hostilities, he married Joyce Winifred Lyne, whom he had met as a fellow serving officer in Belgium. After demobilization, he completed further specialist training, embarking upon a career as a consultant at the Royal London Hospital. However, the daily routine and constraints of a consultant’s career began to irk him after the challenge of his early travels and army service, and in early 1954, at the age of 42, he successfully applied for the position of Director of Anaesthesia for the North-west Coast of Tasmania. He, Joyce and their three young daughters, arrived in Burnie in May 1954 to take up this position.
Having made a conscious decision to practice his profession in an environment which offered more scope to serve the community than the more rarified context of private consultancy in the UK, in Tasmania he found ample opportunity to practice and expand his skills.
Prior to his arrival, the practice of anaesthesia on the Northwest Coast was confined to provision by general practitioners with only basic knowledge and techniques. Knowledge of developments in local anaesthesia and intensive care was virtually non-existent. Upon his arrival, John found that he was responsible for the provision of care, and for training of staff in his chosen field, in no less than five hospitals – Wynyard, Burnie, Devonport, Ulverstone and Latrobe. For the first few years of his appointment, he was the only qualified anaesthetist for these hospitals, resulting in an unrelenting schedule which occupied him from 7.00 a.m. until 8.00 p.m. on a daily basis, and frequently meant a return to the operating theatre in the evenings, working until the small hours on emergency cases. Whilst this regime was rigorous and frequently stretched him to his physical and emotional limits, he was devoted to his work and, despite his share of disappointments when the application of expertise and care were not enough to save a life, obtained huge satisfaction from it.
In a career lasting twenty-three years, John Taylor also attached high priority to keeping up with the latest developments in his field, introducing epidural anaesthetics to Tasmania in the latter part of the 1960s, and establishing the first Intensive Care Units on the island, first in Burnie and then, with the support of local medical staff, in Launceston.
Against that background, John Taylor’s contribution to the Tasmanian community was two-fold. He introduced a range of techniques and procedures in the area of anaesthesia and analgesics, previously unavailable to the population in the north of Tasmania, thereby saving many lives that otherwise would have been lost. In addition, his care of his patients as individuals and his personal commitment to relieving their pain and suffering became a byword amongst the populace he served. One example, of many, serves to illustrate this concern. One of his patients was young farmer with tetanus. Whilst fully appreciating the unlikelihood of his patient’s survival, John Taylor stayed with him throughout his long ordeal, taking all steps he possibly could to reduce his suffering, including arranging for the Tasman Limited’s route through Burnie to be delayed by some hours at one critical juncture, so that absolute quiet could be provided in the environment of the hospital to try to prevent his patient suffering further seizures. Despite all his best efforts, his patient did not survive.
John was a loving and concerned father and husband, devoted to Joyce and the girls. A lover of literature and music, and a gifted raconteur, he lent humour, colour and richness to the family life. A quintessentially modest man, throughout his career and retirement he never ceased to be surprised and touched when he was stopped in the street or at social events by former patients who remembered his care of them or their loved ones with the greatest appreciation and affection, even after many years.