Legendary doctor and highly successful racehorse breeder Jack Woolridge worked till he was 90


Dr John (Jack) Woolridge made an invaluable contribution to the Sutherland Shire community over more than 60 years and was also a highly successful racehorse breeder.

A legendary figure at Sutherland Hospital due to his devotion to patients, Dr Woolridge died on March 14 after a long illness at 92.

He worked until he was 90.

Dr Woolidge, who lived at Cronulla, started as a GP in the shire in the mid-1950s and progressed to become a specialist general physician and cardiologist.

He was one of the first four Honorary Medical Officers at Sutherland Hopsital after it opened in 1958 and he later played a major role in the opening of its coronary care unit.

Away from work, he was a passionate lover of horse racing and owned the highly successful Inverness Stud at Bowral.

His purchases included Songline, the mother of one of Australia’s racing greats, dual Cox Plate winner Sunline.

Dr Woolridge bought Songline in New Zealand. The owners wished to keep her foal, Sunline, whose success no one could have predicted.

Dr Woolridge’s wife Suzanne (Sue) – his first wife Jill died after a long illness –  said her husband was “clever, charismatic and extraordinary”.

“He devoted his life to his patients with skill and saintly caring and kindness,” she said.

“I was very privileged to have been chosen to share his life of devotion.”

EXTRAORDINARY LIFE

At the Leader’s request, Suzanne Woolridge outlined her husband’s accomplishments.

Jack was born in Nowra in 1925 and his family moved to Kingsford in Sydney about 1930.

Jack and his sister Thelma attended Daceyville Public school, one of the toughest schools in Sydney.

Most afternoons after school there would be a fight on a street corner near the school. Jack learned very early to be tough and smart.

Jack’s father was a policeman at Daceyville Police Station, and he did not put up with any nonsense. Any kid making trouble would be taken home to their mother or father.

When Jack was 10, his mother fell ill and Jack was sent to live with his grandparents in Nowra.

He lived a “Tom Sawyer” life, jumping off the bridge into the river and swimming, catching prawns with the Aborigines and cooking them in an old tin can over a fire on the beach.

He picked fruit off the trees in the street when he felt hungry and ran around barefoot. One day, he had to run away from greyhounds and that was when he found out that he could run very fast.

Most days he would collect wood with his grandfather, who had a sawmill.

His grandfather did not believe that Jack needed to go to school. He hadn't, so why should Jack? So, they spent their days together.

Towards the end of the year, the truancy inspectors caught up with Jack and his grandfather, and he was sent back to his parents and school.

Even though he missed a year at school, when he was in sixth class he sat for the Qualifying Certificate and topped the state, which saw him accepted into Sydney Boys High School (SBHS).

At SBHS, Jack excelled at sports, representing in the 100 yard sprint and shotput in athletics, the first X1 in cricket, and the first XV in rugby by the time he was 16.

His school studies were of secondary importance; sport was what he lived for.

He passed the Leaving Certificate in 1942 and took a job as a clerk to fill in the time until he turned 18 the following year, and could apply to join the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

He was accepted into the RAAF and learnt to fly at the Temora flying school.

His flying career was almost shortlived when on a solo flight the wheel of his undercarriage fell off during the flight and he had to crash land his Tiger Moth.

As he came into land he could see the fire engines and ambulances waiting for him. He survived with non life threatening injuries.

Jack was posted to New Guinea and New Britain.

Towards the end of the war, government officials visited New Guinea and told the RAAF boys the government would give them a loan to attend university when they returned home.

Jack asked what was the longest course. He was told medicine.

He started medicine at Sydney University in 1947 with 1360 others.

ln 1954, Jack graduated with honours. He was one of 160 graduates from the 1360 who started with him.

He was offered a residency at st Vincent's hospital and, following that, went into a general practice with Dr Eric Miles at Sutherland.

ln 1958, Jack took 12 months sabbatical leave to study for the Royal College of Physicians membership (MRCP) in Edinburgh.

He travelled to London with his wife Jill and daughter Judith on a passenger / cargo ship, working for their passage as the ship’s doctor.

The ship had very little in the way of medical equipment and, while it was in the middle of the Red Sea, he had to remove the appendix of one of the sailors.

Jack had to be inventive. He tied two card tables together for the operating table, asked the cook to boil up the instruments in the gravy tray, and asked the first mate to apply ether – he was told to drip the ether gradually.

His wife Jill was his assistant and all went well until he looked up and saw the first mate pouring ether liberally.

Jack sorted the situation out and the young man survived his operation.

Jack passed the MRCP within the year and on his return continued practicing as a GP and at the same time commenced practicing as a general physician.

Sutherland Hospital opened in 1958 and Jack was one of the first four Honorary Medical Officers

Jack relinquished his general practice in the early 1960s, practicing as a General Physician in rooms at Caringbah and in Macquarie Street.

Jack had a reputation as a diagnostician; his skills were recognised throughout the medical fraternity.

When Professor Ralph Blackett offered Jack an honorary position at Prince Henry Hospital. he said he had heard that Jack was pretty smart.

Jack played a major role in the design and building of the first coronary care unit at Sutherland hospital.

His ward rounds at Sutherland Hospital were legendary. He was recognised as a great teacher and mentor and medical graduates wanted to be on his team.

His intelligence and brilliance and dedication played a major role in the development of cardiology at Sutherland Hospital.

Jack would usually start his ward rounds at 6am. He might have had 40 plus patients, but would see each one every day, seven days a week, giving them undivided attention.

If they were very ill he would see them two, three  or sometimes four times a day.

He was also known for popping into their homes after they left hospital to check they were OK.

Jack would remember every detail about each patient –  names, date of birth, address, relatives’ names  and how many children they had.

He endeared himself to the patients because he would take the time to talk to them and genuinely listen to their stories and worries. 

ln 1975, Jack could see that echocardiography was going to play a major role in cardiology.

In 1976, he and his wife Sue went to the University of Washington in Seattle to study echocardiography.

On their return they worked as a team and were pioneers in the field.

Sutherland Hospital did not have an echocardiograph machine, so Jack purchased one for the hospital, as well as giving the hospital time and expertise in performing the echocardiographs

ln 1980, he purchased the first echocardiograph two dimensional sector scanner in Australia, which provided a moving picture of the heart.

He also published one of the first articles on Left Ventricular Wall Motion, with all the studies performed at Sutherland hospital by Jack and Sue.

Together they travelled to international centres of excellence in cardiology and attended international conferences continually striving for the knowledge and skills to provide his patients with the best care.

He was respected and loved by all, his patients were not only from the Sutherland Shire, but from all over Sydney, the Southern Highlands, Newcastle, the Hunter Valley, the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Melbourne. Some patients travelled from Singapore and Canada.

Jack had many interests. He loved playing cricket and was sought after for the inter-hospital matches and he loved to go to watch the Test matches.

He also had a great passion for horses and horse racing. He bought his first racehorse about 1957.

ln 1972, Jack and Sue purchased a property at Exeter in the Southern Highlands to spell their racehorses and start a Murray Grey Stud.

The Murray Greys were a great success, the bulls and steers winning championship ribbons at the Moss Vale, Castle Hill, Canberra. Melbourne and Royal Easter shows.

ln 1980, they moved from Exeter to Big Hill, a 1200 acre property near Goulburn.

Then, in 1985, they sold Big Hill and purchased a property in Bowral, naming it lnverness Stud, and started a racehorse breeding farm.

Jack had a great instinct for a good horse. His opinion was respected and sort at the sales.

He and Sue purchased horses in New Zealand, lreland and America and brought them back home to lnverness.

One of his many great purchases was Songline, the mother of Sunline.

lnverness was a great success story with many triumphs.

Jack and Sue sold the last piece of his beloved farm in 2010

Jack married his first wife Jill in 1947 and his first child Judith was born in 1952.

After many years of illness, Jill died in 1969.

He married Sue in 1970. Twin daughters, Jacqueline and Sara, were born in 1971 and their third daughter Rebecca was born in 1974.

Jack continued working as a well respected world class cardiologist until November, 11, 2015 when he was 90 years old.

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