Story: Hall, Theodora Clemens

Page 1: Biography

Hall, Theodora Clemens

1902–1980

Doctor

This biography, written by Shirley Dowding, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.

Theodora Clemens Easterfield was born at Wellington on 12 June 1902, the fourth of five children of Anna Maria Kunigunda Büchel and her husband, Thomas Hill Easterfield, professor of chemistry and physics at Victoria College, who was to become the first director of the Cawthron Institute, Nelson.

Theo, as she was known, received her secondary education at Wellington Girls' College between 1915 and 1919. As a schoolgirl she represented Wellington province at hockey and achieved academic distinction. Like her sister Helen before her, she enrolled at the University of Otago to study medicine and in 1926 graduated MB, ChB. Large hospitals were slow to employ women graduates and it was testimony to Theo's ability that she was immediately accepted as a house surgeon at Wellington Hospital. There were no women doctors' quarters at the hospital so she was obliged to undertake locum work until these were made ready.

In 1929 Theo Easterfield accepted a two-year registrar's appointment at Cook Hospital, Gisborne. After this she travelled overseas for postgraduate study and in 1932 gained her MRCP. On the voyage back to New Zealand she disembarked at Melbourne, and there on 22 November 1932 she married Richard John Burnside Hall, surgeon superintendent at Cook Hospital, who was a widower with a young daughter. They returned to hospital work at Gisborne and served the district with dedication for the next 25 years. With household assistance they raised their family of three daughters.

After a brief period as registrar and assistant physician, in 1934 Theo Hall was appointed specialist physician. Her job was arduous: she had sole responsibility for all the hospital's specialist medical work, with some help from the Hawke's Bay tuberculosis officer, who visited quarterly. Lacking colleagues of similar seniority to consult, she was forced to read widely in current medical literature. Her advice was often sought by local practitioners, who sometimes attended her ward rounds as a form of refresher course. Her diagnostic skills in particular were regarded as outstanding.

Theo Hall was always available to speak with concerned relatives and her ready wit could always put them at ease. Her strong sense of duty to patients is illustrated by a story told by a former colleague. On one occasion Theo and her husband had planned a rare evening out. Just as they were about to depart, a 10-year-old girl was admitted with a life-threatening meningococcal infection. Theo immediately took over from her struggling house physician and, changing her long evening gloves for rubber gloves, took the required sample of spinal fluid from the patient. She stayed with the child and her mother until the sample was tested and treatment initiated, by which time it was too late to consider going out.

In 1957 Dick retired and Theo reluctantly followed suit. In January 1958 they moved to Paihia, but after a few months Theo accepted the position of visiting physician to the Bay of Islands Hospital at Kawakawa, which accounted for two days each week. Now there was time for her to enjoy clinical meetings at Whangarei, to participate in grand rounds and seminars at Auckland Hospital, and to study the emerging specialist area of rheumatology. There was also more time for children and grandchildren, travel, boating, bird-watching, gardening, cooking and entertaining.

In 1971 Theo Hall resigned from her position at Kawakawa for health reasons. Her professional advice continued to be sought and she was a valued counsellor to her friends. She was made an FRACP in 1974. In 1979 she suffered a coronary and the same year Dick had a stroke. Although he eventually made a good recovery and lived on until 1986, Theo's health continued to deteriorate. She died in Auckland Hospital on 19 December 1980. Theo Hall's exceptional personality, capacity for work, professional competence, teaching skills and regard for patients' needs earned her the respect and affection of all who knew her.

How to cite this page:

Shirley Dowding. 'Hall, Theodora Clemens', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4h6/hall-theodora-clemens (accessed 24 October 2019)