Tributes Online - Gordon Sanderson

Gordon Frank Sanderson

6/08/1946 - 5/07/2017

SANDERSON, Gordon MMNZM, Assoc. Professor, JP

On July 5, 2017, Gordon died unexpectedly in Christchurch Public Hospital; aged 70 years. Dearly loved partner of Suzanne, loved father of Adam, Charlotte and her partner Danielle, grandfather of Finn, former husband and friend of Anya, brother of Marjorie, brother-in-law of Richard and uncle to Samantha and Chris. Missed terribly by colleagues, and the Renner, Pilkington, Chown, Williams and Gartner families.

A service for Gordon will be held in Hope and Sons Chapel, corner Andersons Bay Road and Oxford Street, Dunedin at 2.00pm on Friday July 14, followed by private cremation. The service will also be live streamed via Hope and Sons website.

In lieu of flowers donations to the Fred Hollows Foundation or VICTA would be appreciated and may be left at the service.

Messages and close friends who wish to visit Gordon at home in the days leading up to the funeral, make contact with Suzanne -


Last week I can confidently say we were all shocked and stunned at the news of Gordon’s passing , but today on behalf of Suzanne, Charlotte, Adam, and Finn , Margorie and Richard , and all of the family I want to sincerely thank you all for coming on this occasion to remember and mourn his passing and to celebrate Gordon’s life. The sheer numbers of you who have come today is a testament to the respect and love we all have for Gordon. Quite a remarkable man who has been taken from us unexpectedly, and before any of us ever thought was possible - because he was such a vibrant man full of life and energy ,hope and the joy of living. I believe we should therefore be thankful that we had the privilege of knowing him as we have.

For those of you who do not know me my name is Michael Nidd , and I have no claim to fame other than being an old and close friend of Gordon ,
I first met Gordon in May 1975 days after I met Liz, my wife who introduced me to him. I was instantly taken by this urbane, sophisticated, Englishman, who was a lecturer at the Medical School, dressed in a double breasted reefer jacket, immaculate shirt and cravat, driving a classic white 220SL Mercedes with great taste in art but terrible taste in music (Abba and the Bee Gees ]I was a young volatile litigation lawyer of Mediterranean extraction dressed in a leather jacket and jeans listening to Led Zepplin, Hendrix etc. We soon worked out where we came from. He was this pure scientist with a degree from Manchester University, from an upper class English background whilst I was from a background of superstition, religious guilt, and with a lingering belief in idealism, peace, love and music. Clearly the law of opposites attracting. We hit it off immediately and became close, life-long friends, encapsulated by his fly fishing lessons which soon also became my passion which he and I shared for more than 40 years.

Today we are going to hear from a member of Gordon’s close friends and family who will pay tribute to him, but I just want to spell out a few aspects of his life which really was remarkable. Later we will have an open forum opportunity at the Dunedin Club and I hope some of you will take that opportunity to have your memories and experiences shared.

Gordon went to quite an exclusive private school in Scotland. (Lorretto) He recounted how pupils had to have a cold bath every morning which sometimes had ice on top of the water. The extremities were required to be plunged into this torture every day [this was the stuff that made the British Empire ]. He then went to Manchester University and studied physics, and then enrolled in the recently started degree in Opthalmic Optics. With his medic father’s encouragement he then got a job in the local hospital as an opthalmic optician and there started his teaching career teaching nurses how to use specialist equipment examining eyes. It was at this time that Gordon developed a taste for teaching .

In 1972 as a 25 year old he came to New Zealand having been appointed to a lectureship in Opthalmology at Otago University. He planned to stay 3 years but fell passionately in love with Dunedin so stayed for 45 years. His love of teaching grew and he became renowned and loved by students. He developed a reputation by his students as a ‘legend’ of a lecturer . We all know the influence of a good teacher can never be erased and the legend of Gordon will not be erased in the memory of many of the students he taught , many of whom are now distinguished doctors and scientists . He reached the pinnacle of his career in 2013 achieving the Supreme Award in New Zealand for tertiary teaching. The AKO Aotearoa director and member of the awards committee Peter Coolbear said of Gordon that he epitomised sustained tertiary teaching excellence. He said
“His passion for his discipline is infectious. He cares deeply about both his speciality and the patients in his care and shows his genuine excitement about this work with his Students.”

The Prime Minister, John Key said “Associate Professor Gordon Sanderson is an exemplary choice to receive the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award. Gordon has taught tertiary students at all levels over the past 40 years and is recognised by his students as “humble, passionate, and caring”. His work has also included designing and delivering tutorial days, co-ordinating the year-six trainee intern programme, and initiating both the Postgraduate Diploma in Opthalmic Basic Sciences (subsequently taken up by the University of Sydney) and the Masters in Opthalmology. One ex-student described him as “... one of those exceptional people who has made an indelible mark on a generation of doctors, colleagues, and the University of Otago.”

“Beyond the university, Gordon has committed much time to the Royal Foundation of the Blind in a governance role and as trustee of Glaucoma New Zealand. He provides advice and education to practitioners for both organisations. On a local community level, he has written a number of Otago Daily Times articles for school children called ‘Ask a Scientist’ and presented to many community groups. Internationally, he has contributed two chapters to the Oxford textbook of Opthalmology and been appointed as advisor to the University of Brunei Darrasalam and adjunct Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He is also responsible for Allergan’s ‘An Eye on your Health Poster’ which has proved extremely popular in Australia and New Zealand and is now distributed in many countries.”

One of the defining characteristics of Gordon was his willingness to give of himself. He contributed personally to so many organisations that you had to wonder how he had the time or energy to do what he did in his lifetime, or indeed how he found the time to go fishing, and we sure spent many days doing that forming not only a special friendship for me but also for our boys Matt and Joe.

Gordon’s key roles included Chair of the Royal NZ foundation for the Blind from 1994 to 2002, Chairman of College of Management Committee for Homai College for the Blind, founding Trustee and Chair of NZ Eye Bank Trust, member of the board of NZ Retina Pigmentosa Society, Director and Secretary of the NZ Society for Prevention of Blindness. (Now Sure Sight Society), Trustee of Glaucoma NZ, Visiting Lecturer of the University of Auckland and external examiner in Optometry, Honorary Member of Opthalmological Society since 1995, Honorary Fellow of NZ College of Opthalmologists, Chair of the Ministry of Health Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Group, a member of the board of ‘The Fred Hollows Foundation’ and a Trustee of Visual Impairment Charitable Trust Aotearoa.

In addition to his involvement in these organisations he had an active interest in the arts , including a stint on the Dunedin City Art Gallery board and on the Acquisition Committee of the Dunedin Hospital art trust .

In 2006 Gordon was made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit for services to people with visual impairment and was particularly mentioned for assisting children with low vision go on to have a productive life .

Gordon was never frightened to speak out about issues that concerned him. He managed to cause some controversy over his views that the hospital and medical school were not co-operating adequately or taking advantage of each other, and effectively becoming a teaching hospital. He took up causes for patients and pupils and indeed the Eye Department when ever he could and pushed the boundaries for his causes at every opportunity.

His personal skills were also legendary. He could turn his hand to woodworking, joinery, antique restoration, and all things mechanical. His sense of humour was exceptional (although he couldn’t tell a joke) and he loved laughing out loud at the likes of Billy Connolly, John Cleese and their ilk .. He loved wining and dining , the company of all sorts of eccentric and eclectic people, and most importantly his family. He and Suzanne travelled regularly to the UK to visit his UK family. On a personal level Gordon was fortunate to have a supportive, loving and committed relationship with Suzanne for some 20 years and to have a wonderful daughter Charlotte, son Adam, and little grandson Finn who was the apple of his eye and he could not wait to take fishing one day.

As indicated he has a myriad of close, wonderful friends and associates from all parts of the world, many of whom have sent messages of condolences and some who have come long distances to be here today , all of which is a testament to his infectious and passionate love of life and people.
Over the years and endless hours of walking river banks and lake shores ,we talked and debated everything from the origins of the universe to the madness of arbitrary speed limits .We wined and dined and drank vast quantities of Pinot Noir til the gout stopped me and we tried to solve all the world’s problems and to ,most of which Gordon had the answers .

I will now call on:- Charlotte and Adam and Anya for their reflections

Phillip Polkinghorn
Rod Keillor

We have heard from Gordon’s friends and family and I am sure there will be many more stories to be told later today at Gordon’s wake. It is now time to say goodbye. Remember that the dead do not reside in an urn or grave but in the hearts and minds of the living and that the best answer to death is the whole hearted and continuing affirmation of life.
When you leave today I hope you will have a sense that you shared something special in being part of Gordon’s life. We all have our personal and special memories of Gordon and these we will treasure forever . To me I will be eternally grateful to Gordon for his friendship and comradeship over the years and his close personal relationship with my sons Matt and Joe who he patiently tolerated on numerous fishing trips . You were a truly good and generous man , you gave of yourself , an example to us all . You shared your knowledge with many , you taught us well and we have all learned from you .Even though your life was cut short it is hard to imagine how you could still fit more in .

Death is the natural order of things for us all but it is still very hard to face when it is someone we have loved and has played a unique part in our lives. We have all been enriched by being part of Gordon’s life so it is with great sorrow and deep love we now commit Gordon’s body to its end to become part of the ultimate elements.
Goodbye old friend , I will truly miss you ,we will all truly miss you .

In the words of Mahatma Ghandi “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” and another of his quotes is “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”
In the words of Thomas Campbell “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.
Finally from the Dali Lama “Share your knowledge. That is the way to achieve immortality.”

When we now return to our lives let us pledge a determination to make Gordon’s life inspire us and to live our own lives more intensely and more generously. Let Gordon’s example of giving freely of his time to be an example to us all. We should remember Gordon for what he did for others, his family , his friends, his community, with his care and generosity. His life was a shining example of how we should live our lives.
His life was a life well lived . Be assured Gordon will live on in our memories for the rest of our lives .



Today we have been remembering with love the life of Gordon , his achievements , his contributions , his generosity , his teaching .

We have shared our life experiences of our relationships with Gordon. We have listened with awe at his involvement in so many organisations , we have heard about his accolades and successes , but now we come to the time to say our final goodbyes , remembering with love and gratitude our connections with Gordon .

As a final tribute I would like to read a short paragraph from a fly fisherman and philosopher Mark Kingswell who wrote an exceptional book [possibly my favourite] called ‘’Catch & Release’’.

This reading I believe captures Gordon’s positive outlook on life :

‘’Imagination over certainty ; curiosity over pride , hope over security - these are the virtues of the angler as well as other sorts of vigorous poetic dreamers , dreamers who are doers . And this finally sitting not in a seminar room or a library but on the side of a lake or the bank of a river - you see this is what Walton means when he says fishing avoids the snare of the ancient choice between reflection and action . Fishing teaches us to dream , to find apertures of possibility in the edifice of daily life ; to act by contemplating and contemplate as a way of acting . To angle is to live in hope .And just as surely , hope’s contours are revealed by anglings’ calmness . ‘’

So as a final lesson from Gordon let us keep hope close , let us always be calm and determined and be inspired by Gordon’s life .


Hope and Sons Ltd

Funeral Directors

Dunedin - Mosgiel - Palmerston

Service Information
Date: 14/07/2017
Time: 2:00 p.m.
Location: Hope and Sons Chapel
corner Andersons Bay Road and Oxford Street