Shirley Tonkin, paediatrician and sudden infant death syndrome researcher,Died at 94


Shirley Lyford Tonkin OBE/née Curtis was born on June 6, 1921, and died on January 27, 2016.

She was a New Zealand paediatrician and sudden infant death syndrome researcher.

Mrs.Tonkin was the younger daughter of Nora Bessie Curtis (née Lyford) and her husband, Leslie Ralfe Curtis.

Shirley was educated at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in Wellington from 1937 to 1938.

Mrs.Tonkin then studied medicine at the University of Otago, graduating MB ChB in 1946.

Shirley married John Carvossoe Stephen Tonkin on 5 April 1947. They had two children.

Their daughter, Heather, gave birth in 1985 to a daughter, Felicity Tonkin, the father of the baby, Captain Mark Phillips who, at that time, was married to Princess Anne.

Following her residency at New Plymouth Hospital between 1945 and 1947, She then worked in the accident and emergency department at Napier Hospital from 1947 to 1950.

While she was a general practitioner from 1950 to 1952, was followed by study at the Institute of Child Health in London, where she completed a Diploma of Child Health.

On her return to New Zealand, Mr.Tonkin worked as a medical officer at the Department of Health in Auckland from 1954 to 1978.

Mrs.Tonkin did research on cot death for 30 years and was acknowledged as an international expert in the field.

All her dedication and hard work resulted in the formulation of national guidelines for babies’ sleeping conditions.

Founder of the New Zealand Cot Death Association in 1979, she was credited with renaming “cot death” as “sudden infant death syndrome”.

As a child safety advocate, she was one of the three researchers who developed a foam insert for children’s car seats to reduce the risk of choking to infants.

In 1985, Queen’s Birthday Honours Shirley Tonkin served as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to medicine and welfare.

Shirley Tonkin passed away at 94 yrs old.