Dr Merrilee Jan Whish (nee Cantle)

Dr Merrilee Jan Whish (nee Cantle)

M.B.B.S (UNSW) D.C.C.H (Flinders) F.R.A.C.G.P Dip F Med (Monash)

25/7/1958 – 8/1/2010

Merrilee Jan Whish was the only daughter of Beverley and Lyall Cantle. She grew up in West Pennant Hills and Beecroft with brothers Ian, Derek and Andrew. As a child, Merrilee was extraordinarily bright. Not only in school, but in her manner, her joy of living and playfulness. In everything, she strived to do her best, because life was just so much fun. She commenced school at age 4, her parents had to satisfy the bureaucracy that the child was exceptional. She attended the Tara Girls School in Parramatta were she was a Prefect. Merrilee was a soprano in the 12 voice, Chapel and School choir. Tennis was her sport which she played throughout her life.

After completing year 12 in 1975, she graduated into Medicine at age 16 but deferred entry and took up a Rotary Exchange Scholarship to Thailand. At the time Australians were studying European languages, but Merrilee saw the opportunity to learn the culture and language and fall in love with the Thai people. She endured a military coup and was presented to the Queen.

In 1977, she returned to study Medicine at the University of NSW. It was there that she met David Whish at age 18. He says of that day “She was the most exotic thing I’d ever seen–she spoke 3 languages, had traveled the world, cooked food from the orient no one had heard of, wore beads around her head and wrists, and floated around in a long flowing Indian dress.” After completing her degree, she completed her intern year and residency at St. George Hospital, Sydney.

In 1982, she married Dr. David Whish at St. Johns Cathedral, Parramatta in Sydney. They were both Medical interns, they had no money, no leave entitlements and two shifts to synchronize but they managed a week’s honeymoon in Lightning Ridge digging for Opals until the money ran out.

In 1984, she followed as David took up Anaesthetic training in Brisbane and Cairns. In these years, she worked at the Queensland University Student Health, Mater Children’s Casualty and the Wesley Breast Clinic. Always keen to work in family Practice in Brisbane and Cairns. She completed the Diploma of Community Child Health at Flinders University in 1988, the Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in 1992, the same year she completed her vocational registration with the Family medicine Programme.

In 1996, she completed the Graduate Diploma in Family Medicine from Monash University externally. From 1988-1993 she worked in Rural General Practice in Armidale and Inverell in New South Wales while David lived away from home 2 nights of every week. Here she had the love and support of her parents–in–law. From 1993 until her death she worked in Family General Practice in Brisbane and Sydney and Aged Care Services. She had also become proficient at assisting at Robotic Prostate Surgery.

She was a mother to children from all over the world through her involvement in student exchange programs. She was also an inspiration to them – Laura from Argentina (who lost her own mother to cancer when she was a teen) decided to study Medicine upon returning to South America – and credits Merrilee for giving her the courage to do it. Her family has had exchange students from Russia, Thailand, Germany, Chile, New Guinea, Argentina and Austria.

Merrilee also wielded an incredible emotional intelligence and depth that brought immense comfort to her family, her friends and her patients in their darkest hours. Her special gift was not being afraid. She knew everything was going to be OK, even if it was going to be different, and so she was able to bring light to their darkness.

She was an intellectual force to be reckoned with, was widely read in ancient history, art and architecture and had done many world trips with like-minded ancient history doyens. She always took an extensive Medical kit.

A passionate supporter of the arts she assisted many young singers and students financially and medically. Deeply committed to her patients well-being and selfless in the hours she worked for patients, family and friends she was tragically killed while skiing in Smithers, British Columbia, Canada, her hide-a-way for the last 8 years with David. She is survived by her beloved husband David, children Rebecca, Nicholas and Maggie. Her Funeral Service at St. Johns Cathedral, Brisbane on Friday the 29th of January was a testament to the hundreds of patients and friends who loved her.

We are all far richer for having known and loved her.

Ian Cantle

David Whish would like to thank all the emergency staff in Smithers involved in Merrilee’s accident on the 8th of January and a special thanks to Sherrie Day, Mark and Jenny Lester, Edna Carson, Murray and Jacquie Anderson, Brady Stokes, Tom and Lorna Butz and Kevin and Mary Knight for there help and support.


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