This biography is based on an interview with Alexandra Moira Recordon and Katherine Mary Didsbury (two of Judy McCann’s children) in 2021 for the Early Medical Women of New Zealand Project. The interviewers were Cindy Farquhar and Michaela Selway.
Early Life Surrounded by Medical Influences
Judith Moyra de Vernot Faris was born on 6 September 1923 in Inglewood, Taranaki. She was the third of four children to Irwin Eric and Doris Grant (nee Dall) Faris: Irwin Bruce (Bill), Sholto Grant, Judith Moyra de Vernot, and Erica Lya Felicity Ann (who was born seven years after Judy). Doris was a homemaker and was quite a formidable character.
Irwin Eric’s grandchildren remember that he smoked a pipe and was a quiet man. He participated in both World Wars. He qualified MB ChB in 1914, joined the New Zealand Medical Army Corps, sailing in 1915 to Egypt. On return to N.Z, he was appointed District Health Officer for Dunedin during the influenza epidemic of 1919. In 1922 he started a general practice in Inglewood, Taranaki (where Judy was born and grew up) and in 1939 sold it to re-enlist in the NZ Army Medical Corps, moving the family to the North Shore, Auckland. He left the army as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1945 to commence a General Practice in Belmont, Takapuna with his son Sholto.
Judy was sent up to board at St. Cuthbert’s College in Auckland for her 3rd form year in 1936 but was homesick and persuaded her father to transfer back down to Nga Tawa in Marton the following year and was very happy there.
At Nga Tawa, Judy was heavily involved in the cultural and arts side of the school and she played the organ during assemblies. She also performed well academically and was determined to pursue a career in medicine even though she was not taught Maths past fourth form and had never been taught Physics or Chemistry.
Medical School in Dunedin
Judy’s decision to enter Medical School was heavily influenced by those who surrounded her. Not only was her father a General Practitioner, but by the time she finished High School, both of her older brothers were students at Otago Medical School. “Her two older brothers had gone to medical school and she said to her father that she wanted to follow. He said, “Well, you can go down to Otago and you can do home science” … But he did promise her if she did well, he’d let her go to med school. The siblings were quite competitive and she was strong-willed. She wouldn’t have wanted her brothers to have an opportunity that she didn’t get.”
Judy moved down to Dunedin for Medical Intermediate in 1942 and entered the halls at St Margaret’s – where she stayed for the entire time she was in Dunedin. Judy had a very good (almost photographic) memory and even “traded her sewing skills for help with physics.” Despite the initial obstacles she experienced, Judy worked very hard to prove herself in her first year and she did. She passed with flying colours and entered Medical School the following year.
Judy mentioned that there were about seven women in her cohort, and she passed all of her classes. It helped that she loved learning; “she was always enthusiastic about everything especially anything new, exciting, interesting or challenging” Her family supported her both financially and emotionally throughout the whole journey. Though her parents never visited her in Dunedin, she had both of her older brothers there, which she found very helpful. They were all only a few years apart from each other and were quite close.
Judy loved Dunedin and made the most of her time there. She had a happy social life and often recounted stories of what they got up to, including the boys concreting in a toilet in the hostel driveway in the middle of the night. She also had very supportive friends, including Judy Ann David Wilson (nee Collins), Maire Jean Smith (nee Tait), and Diana Marcia Smith (nee Morton).
In the Winter Holidays Judy would go skiing with other medical students often to Coronet Peak. She also attended balls and she claimed she even sat an exam in a ball dress on VE Day in 1945.
Judy spent her final year in Wellington, though her children do not know where specifically she was based. She graduated from Medical School in 1947 along with twelve other women and her children remember her saying that she graduated about sixth in her year.
A Pioneer at Auckland Hospital & Postgraduate Training in London
Judy certainly felt the weight of her calling into a medical career. She often told her peers and children: “Because I’ve done medicine and it’s a privilege, I need to work”. In her first year after completing her studies, she obtained a position at Auckland Hospital. It is believed that she partially received this job because the father of her fellow student, Diana Morton, was a board member. Judy was fortunate to receive a job at Auckland Hospital this year, as this was the first year, they offered live-in positions for women house surgeons. Indeed, from 1901, when the first women house-surgeon was given a position (Dr. Alice Horsley nee Woodward), until the 1940s, women had been fighting with the Hospital Board for adequate accommodation to be organised. Judy had “the privilege of being [one of] the first woman house surgeons to live-in at Auckland Hospital, probably because Diana’s father was a board member.”
After her house-surgeon years at Auckland Hospital, Judy worked for six months as a School Medical Officer (1950) and then decided to undertake postgraduate training in Paediatrics at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Her parents told her that she was to be accompanied by her younger sister, Felicity. The two sisters set off for the UK in 1950, Judy undertook her postgraduate studies and they enjoyed sightseeing around the UK and France. At one point, she wrote a letter back to her parents asking for more money to be wired over, saying that it was very expensive to live in London.
Returning to New Zealand & Getting Married
In 1951, the two sisters boarded the “Stratheden” back to New Zealand, where they met Sidney Scott McCann (“Scott”) who was the ship’s doctor.
Scott was originally from Northern Ireland, had a lovely Irish accent and was dashing. Judy quickly fell in love and the couple were engaged by the end of the trip.
For the rest of 1951, Judy planned the wedding by herself while Scott continued to work overseas and prepare his move to New Zealand. Scott joined the family general practice in Takapuna (as Judy’s father retired) alongside his brother-in-law Sholto, Judy’s former classmate Rex Sinclair and a Scotsman, Duncan Finlayson. The practice partners and wives formed great friendships, enjoyed playing golf together and shared many family holidays together. Judy fell pregnant within months of the wedding and their first child, Alexandra Moira Recordon, was born in November 1952. When Judy went into labour, they had to catch the ferry over to National Women’s, because the Harbour Bridge had not been built yet.
A New Career Direction: Antenatal Education
While she was in London, Judy developed a passion for antenatal and health education, particularly that it should be freely accessible. So, she obtained a position in the Health Department as a full-time School Medical Officer and Plunket Doctor. She held this position until 1962. She gathered up pregnant women from both Scott’s general practice and her brother Bill’s Obstetric practice and ran the first antenatal class in New Zealand in a garage. Over the years this expanded exponentially, and she ended up running classes at North Shore Hospital and in the Waitakeres and St Helens. Hospital. She established some permanent rooms at North Shore Hospital for lectures, physiotherapy and exercise classes. Judy wrote the Health Department Antenatal Teaching Book called “Your New Baby” and later became the National Co-ordinator for Parenthood Education in New Zealand. As the National Coordinator, she travelled extensively to set up the regional committees. One notable moment from her career at this time was when she was given the opportunity to attend the World Medical Women’s Conference in Berlin in the 1978. She was patron of the North Shore Plunket Society.
Alongside running these classes, she supported unmarried mothers by bringing them into her home and looking after them throughout their pregnancies. Scott would sometimes deliver the babies and they worked in close association with Bethany Centre in Grey Lynn through which adoptions were arranged.
Scott and Judy had four children: Alexandra Moira Recordon, William Shaun Faris McCann, Justin Patrick Robert McCann, and Katherine Mary Didsbury. Alex and Kathy remember that they had a lot of help growing up and that though Judy liked to cook, she didn’t have much time to do it. Because she often worked teaching antenatal classes at night, she was often home when we came in from school. She really tried hard to be a good role model as a working mother.
Life Outside of Medicine
Judy had many passions outside of medicine. She enjoyed golfing and trout-fishing and she loved to paint. She studied Maori and Psychology. During retirement, she continued to be involved with Friends of Bethany and the Judy McCann Parenthood Education Trust which she set up.
The family had also built a bach at Kuratau, Lake Taupo in the 1970s and they went there as much as possible. It was very much the family’s special place.
Unfortunately, Judy developed osteoporosis, and this marred her much anticipated retirement plans. She suffered many back fractures and her quality of life deteriorated over the next twelve years. Scott cared for her and nursed her at home.
In 1994 she received a Queen’s Service Order (QSO) for her public service.
After a long and successful career and life, Judy passed away peacefully on 30 September 1999. Scott died on 31 July 2010. She is survived by her four children, 11 grandchildren (two of whom are doctors) and currently 7 great grandchildren.
 Further information on this debate can be found in Anderson, Kathleen, ‘Beyond the Pioneer Woman Doctor: A Study of Women Doctors in Auckland 1900–1960’, MA thesis, University of Auckland, 1992.