Arthur Porritt, Baron Porritt

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Arthur Espie Porritt, Baron Porritt, GCMG, GCVO, CBE (August 10, 1900January 1, 1994) was a New Zealand physician, statesman and athlete. He served as the Governor-General of New Zealand between 1967 and 1972.

Born in Wanganui, New Zealand, Porritt's mother died in 1914 during his first year at the Wanganui Collegiate School and, as his father left soon after to serve in the World War I, he developed to a keen athlete. In 1920 he began studying towards a medical degree at Selwyn College, Otago. In 1923 Porritt was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, and he studied medicine from 1924 to 1926 at Magdalen College, Oxford.

He represented New Zealand at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, winning a bronze medal in the 100 m. He also won two heats in the 200 m, but came fifth in the semi-final. The 100 m race was later immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire, but due to Porritt’s modesty the bronze medallist was portrayed by a fictional ‘Tom Watson’. Porritt was captain of the New Zealand team at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, but withdrew from the 100 m because of injury.

After retirement from athletics Porritt was a New Zealand's team manager at the 1934 British Empire Games in London and 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Porritt was the New Zealand member of the International Olympic Committee from 1934 to 1967. He was the first President of the IOC Medical Commission from 1961 to 1967.

He became a house surgeon at St Mary's Hospital, London in 1936 and later that year was appointed surgeon to the Duke of York, who soon afterwards was crowned king. He was promoted to King's Surgeon from 1946 to 1952, and was Sergeant-Surgeon to the Queen Elizabeth II until 1967. During the World War II, Porritt was a brigadier in the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving in France until after the evacuation from Dunkirk, then in Egypt, and later landing in Normandy on D-Day. He became president in 1960 of both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the first person to hold the two positions simultaneously, and retained the presidency of the RCS until 1963.

Porritt was knighted in 1950 and became a baronet in 1963. When he was elevated to the Peerage in 1973, he chose to honour his home town and was created Baron Porritt, of Wanganui in New Zealand and of Hampstead in Greater London.

In 1967 Porritt returned to New Zealand as the 11th Governor-General, and the first born in New Zealand. His term marked a turning-point in the country’s constitutional history: his successors have all been New Zealand citizens and residents. However this does not mean previous viceroys were entirely 'British'; Lord Freyberg moved to New Zealand when he was two years old and considered himself a New Zealander.

At the end of his term in September 1972 Porritt returned to England.

Lord Porritt died in London at the age of 93. His son is Jonathan Porritt, a well-known environmental activist.


Preceded by:
Sir Bernard Fergusson
Governor-General of New Zealand
1967–1972
Succeeded by:
Sir Denis Blundell

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