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Jones, Sir Keith Stephen (1911–2012)

by Malcolm Brown

One of most gratifying moments in Sir Keith Jones's eventful life was when, aged 98, he received news that the wreck of the Centaur, the hospital ship sunk by the Japanese in 1943, had been found, and with it the final resting place of his younger brother, Gordon. Jones and Gordon, both medical graduates, had signed up for war service, and Jones had been offered a cabin on the Centaur, to spend a few days with his brother, but had turned it down.

''I did not think it appropriate that two brothers should be together,'' he said. ''And, I got dreadfully seasick.''

Jones went on to serve as the deputy assistant director of medical services in the Lae campaign in New Guinea.

But if he had been on that ship on May 14, 1943, the tortuous introduction of government-funded medical insurance in Australia — which was to change the administration of medicine in this country forever — would have been much more difficult.

Keith Stephen Jones was born at Narrandera on July 7, 1911, son of Stephen Jones, an engineer who was then engaged in constructing the first irrigation ditches in the Riverina, and wife Muriel (nee Rickard).

The family moved to Newcastle and the young Jones was woken on the night of November 11, 1918, to hear the city bells ringing to signal the end of World War I.

He won a scholarship to Newington College in Sydney, where he displayed enormous athletic skill, establishing junior NSW and Australian 440 yards and 880 yards running records.

He was dux of the school, and enrolled in medicine at the University of Sydney.

But running remained a passion and competing in the 1932 Australian Athletics Championships, he was in the team that set Australian records in the 4x440 and 4x880 yards relays.

He would have been a candidate for the 1934 Empire Games and even the 1936 Olympics but the medical profession was too demanding and he decided to retire from running.

His internships were at the Royal Prince Alfred and Western Suburbs Hospitals until his father bought him a practice at Pambula on the south coast.

In 1936 he married an artist, Kathleen Abbott.

When war was declared, Jones signed up and served in NSW, Queensland and New Guinea.

He was demobilised in 1944 after Kathleen suffered a serious accident, to look after her and their three sons: Stephen, born in 1937, Richard (1941) and Robert (1945).

The family moved from Pambula to Sydney where the sons could be educated and Jones started general practice in Manly. He became an honorary surgeon at Manly Hospital, and chief medical officer for the NSW State Emergency Service. In 1949, he became a fellow of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and in 1955, Jones took rooms in Macquarie Street as a general surgeon.

He tutored in surgery at the University of Sydney and in 1957 he became a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

Many appointments were to follow, to bodies such as the NSW Medical Board, the postgraduate medical committee of the University of Sydney and the Australian Council of Professions.

Jones became involved in the politics and administration of medicine, helping found the Medical Benefits Fund and forming the Australian Medical Association in 1962. He became the association's NSW president and one of the NSW representatives on the association's federal council. He was also elected to the council's economic advisory committee.

When the Gorton government introduced the national health scheme in 1969, Jones joined a working party to go to Canberra on behalf of the AMA to produce a list of fees on which government benefits would be based.

But on July 1, 1970, when that list was finalised, most general practitioners were outraged.

Following an extraordinary general meeting of the NSW branch of the AMA and a vote of no confidence, Jones and Dr Munro Alexander, who was also a representative for NSW on the association's council, tendered their resignations, which the NSW branch refused to accept.

''I think they realised they were going to lose their two most experienced men on council,'' Jones said.

At the next general meeting of the branch, Alexander lost his position and Jones retained his seat by about five votes. On June 6, 1973, Jones was elected president. The Herald's medical correspondent, Shaun McIlwraith, wrote at that time that Jones was ''one of the more stylish of Australia's medical leaders! A veteran of medico-legal politics, Dr Jones has come across well on television and has dared to express a private opinion on controversial matters.''

Twelve months later, Jones was seconded to take up a position as executive officer with the federal branch of the AMA, a period that involved the introduction of Medibank by the Whitlam government.

''The AMA decided it would not fight the introduction of Medibank,'' Jones said.

''It has had its ups and downs ever since. There will always be problems when money is involved. But it is here for good, and if we had not had it we might now have a form of capitation [standard payments per patient in care] or salaries, as in Britain.''

Jones retired from Macquarie Street and the AMA in 1976 but was immediately drawn into a project by Manly Hospital, to plan, build and administer a new modern medical and emergency centre, which he then went on to direct for seven years.

He was awarded the Gold Medal, which was the highest honour of the AMA. In 1979, he was awarded a Knight Bachelor for his services to medicine and health administration.

Retiring from clinical medicine in 1981, Jones undertook consulting work in the medico-legal field. He served on the council of Newington College for 18 years. Kathleen died in 2003 and Jones moved into a retirement home at Bayview Gardens, his sharp brain unaffected by the progressing years.

Jones died on March 2. His funeral was at St Matthews Anglican Church, Manly, on March 8. He is survived by his sons, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 March 2012

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Jones, Sir Keith Stephen (1911–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/jones-sir-keith-stephen-14669/text25806, accessed 24 August 2019.

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