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Taranaki trailblazer honoured with new portrait

Written by Ryman Healthcare
on June 18, 2021

MEDIA RELEASE June 17, 2021

Jean Sandel painting unveiled at New Plymouth retirement village named in her honour

Pioneering Taranaki surgeon Jean Sandel has been honoured with a stunning new portrait.

Dr Sandel, the first registered female surgeon in New Zealand, was a trailblazer who paved the way for women in medicine.

A new portrait of her by Auckland artist Craig Primrose QSM was unveiled at the New Plymouth retirement village named in her honour on June 17.

More than 150 residents and guests crowded into the village centre to hear Taranaki historian Andrew Moffat tell her story prior to the portrait unveiling.

Dr Sandel was famously too short for theatre tables designed for men, and she operated on patients while standing on a box.

“Once she had earned their respect, they bought her a stool, but the tables were still too tall.’’

Dr Sandel achieved a number of firsts in her lifetime, and is remembered as a trailblazer in a profession dominated by men.

She also played a leading role in the development of Taranaki Base Hospital during her career and became a local icon.

Dr Sandel also pioneered cardio surgery in provincial New Zealand and was known as a kind and sympathetic surgeon who was always there for her patients.

Mr Moffat said she was an outstanding student at New Plymouth Girls’ High School, where she was dux for two years running, head boarder, head girl and also won a lot of sporting prizes.

“Curiously, she wrote that she didn’t enjoy school because of the expectations – she clearly excelled at everything,’’ Mr Moffat said.

“Her will, which is stored in Puke Ariki, shows that she left a lot to local charities, reflecting her Presbyterian values and generosity.’’

Dr Sandel loved cricket and was a regular at Pukekura Park whenever there was a game on.

“I think she’d be cheering the Black Caps on today,’’ he said.

Dr Sandel’s life was cut short by cancer, and she passed away in 1974 at the age of 57.

The name has always been popular with residents at the village, many of whom remember her.

Judy Munro, a resident and retired registered nurse, recalled working with Dr Sandel as a theatre nurse.

“She was strict but fair and absolutely wonderful with patients,’’ she said.

Ryman Healthcare Corporate Affairs Manager David King said the unveiling provided a special moment for the village and its residents.

“Jean will take pride of place in reception – it is a stunning portrait and we cannot thank Craig enough for his work.’’

“We think it will add to Jean’s story – it is one that’s an inspiration to women and to the region.’’

For more than 30 years Ryman Healthcare has named its villages after significant local people.

Other namesakes include Sir Edmund Hillary (Remuera), Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Gisborne), Possum Bourne (Pukekohe), Miriam Corban (Henderson); Linda Jones (Hamilton) and Charles Upham (Rangiora, North Canterbury).

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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