THE passing of Dr Peter Hendry leaves Newcastle the poorer. The celebrated pathologist, who died on Saturday, was one of the Hunter’s last surviving wartime captives of Japan. Dr Hendry has played a quiet role in many of our greatest institutions.
But between his contributions to the city, medicine and countless other endeavors he and his late wife Senta Taft-Hendry remained some of the city’s most intriguing people well into their old age.
Both lived lives that put fictional characters in the shade.
Dr Hendry and his wife, herself a pilot and art collector, each had adventures for the ages.
Dr Hendry served his community whenever he could. He was a deputy chancellor of the University of Newcastle, worked in private practice until he was 85 and was instrumental to saving countless lives with his work to transform a Newcastle hospital transfusion service into a regional blood bank as director.
Perhaps his most noble service was to his comrades after he was captured by the Japanese, enduring conditions that linger in collective memory due to a brutality few truly knew.
His plans to become a surgeon were put aside after war was declared and he deployed to Malaya in 1941. There he would spend three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in Changi and working on the Burma-Thailand Railway.
"I stepped off that plane [home] and said 'That's the end of the bloody war for me'," he said in 2013. "I closed the book on that chapter of my life."
In 2015, Dr Hendry enjoyed his 100th birthday simply, taking a place in the sun near the harbour surrounded by family and friends. That place in the sun is one the Officer of the Order of Australia earned many times over but rarely sought out. His fine deeds forced him into the limelight.
His centenary was only six months after the city farewelled Mrs Taft-Hendry. She was Australia’s oldest female pilot, a fearless adventurer and Dr Hendry’s beloved wife.
Speaking to Newcastle Herald reporter Jason Gordon in 2014, she bemoaned that her age meant she was required a chaperone when she took the controls. "Because after you turn 80, they like you to fly with somebody because of your heart,” she said.
May she and Peter fly on together in peace and happiness. They will be missed.