Page 1: Biography
Pickerill, Cecily Mary Wise
This biography, written by R. Harvey Brown, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 4, 1998.
Cecily Mary Wise Clarkson was born in Taihape on 9 February 1903, the daughter of Margaret Ann Hunter and her husband, Percy Wise Clarkson, the first Anglican vicar of Taihape. She was educated at Taihape School and at the Diocesan High School for Girls, Auckland. In 1921 she began medical studies at the University of Otago, graduating MB, ChB in 1925.
As a house surgeon at Dunedin Hospital in 1926 she worked under Professor Henry Percy Pickerill, surgeon in charge of the facial and jaw department and dean of the dental school at the university. In 1927 Pickerill moved to Sydney, where he specialised in plastic surgery and in 1933 was appointed plastic surgeon to the Royal North Shore Hospital. Cecily Clarkson also went to Sydney and worked as his pupil and associate. After Pickerill's divorce, she married him in Sydney on 17 December 1934. A short time later they returned to New Zealand and set up private practices in Wellington. They continued to be close surgical associates, working together at Lewisham Hospital and later as visiting plastic surgeons to Middlemore Hospital, Auckland.
In 1939 the Pickerills established Bassam Hospital in Lower Hutt. Initially this was a hostel for children and their parents, surgery being carried out at Lewisham Hospital. In 1942 Bassam became a full hospital for children requiring plastic surgery: the majority of cases involved cleft lips and palates and other congenital defects. Because people at the time were not 'altogether trustful' of a woman surgeon, it was not until later that patients' parents were told that Cecily had performed an operation. A feature of the treatment methods established by the Pickerills was the involvement of the mothers in the care of their children. Bassam was the first hospital in New Zealand to offer live-in accommodation for the mothers of babies, an important development in the prevention of infection and in ensuring a less stressful atmosphere.
After the Second World War the Pickerills' work included the treatment of war injuries, a field in which Henry Pickerill had gained an international reputation for his pioneering methods during the First World War. In 1945 Cecily was acting senior plastic surgeon at Wellington Hospital. Despite her three years there as assistant plastic surgeon, and her many years' experience in plastic surgery in private practice, her application in 1946 to make the position permanent was unsuccessful, possibly because she lacked specialist qualifications in surgery.
Henry Pickerill died in 1956 and Cecily continued her work at Bassam Hospital until her retirement in 1967. The hospital closed at the same time and the premises were subsequently taken over by Bloomfield Hospital. Pickerill was made an OBE in 1958 and a DBE in 1977. Her publications in medical, surgical and nursing literature were mostly co-authored with her husband. However, she published a paper in the New Zealand Medical Journal and one in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery on the nursing role of the mother in the prevention of cross-infection following surgery in infants.
She was honoured by a number of organisations including the New Zealand Crippled Children Society, of which she was an honorary vice president and a life member of many of its branches. She was patron of the Upper Hutt branch of the New Zealand Red Cross Society, and was involved with the Laura Fergusson Trust for Disabled Persons. For many years she was closely associated with St Mary's Anglican Church, Silverstream. Outside her professional and voluntary work, she was interested in tapestry and trout fishing. She was also a keen and knowledgeable gardener; the garden of the Pickerill home, Beechdale at Silverstream, was acclaimed for its rhododendrons and was recognised as one of Wellington's most beautiful.
Cecily Pickerill died at the Bloomfield Hospital on 21 July 1988, survived by a daughter. Although she had never gained postgraduate qualifications in surgery, she occupies an important place in the development of plastic surgery in New Zealand, especially for her contribution to the care of children with cleft lip and palate.