My Uncle Rodney and my Aunty Sue graduated from SCC in 1977, when I was only a few months old. Prior to studying Chiropractic he had previously worked as a civil engineer and studied (and lectured) in clinical hypnotherapy. It wasn’t long after graduation that Rodney became involved in the education of future Chiropractic students. Well known Chiropractor, Dr Anthony O’Reilly, who graduated in 1985, told me that Uncle Rod was the lecturer for his very first class, Chiropractic 101, and that Rod’s dynamic and inspiring talk confirmed that he had made the right choice in choosing Chiropractic.
Scores of student Chiropractors worked as Assistants in Rodney’s clinic, over the years, as did I in my last 2 years of university. Many of them went on to become lecturers, tutors and leaders in our profession, and include the likes of Dr Bryce Conrad, Dr Claire McVittie, and very well known Chiropractors such as Dr Stephen Esposito, Assoc. Prof. Rosemarie Giuriato and Dr John Petrozzi. Each year there might be 15 – 20 different students working various shifts, helping with patient care and answering phones. Rodney would generously share his knowledge and skills with each one. His first associate was Dr John Kelly, who told me that Rodney also encouraged him to take on lecturing and to become Principal of the Sydney College of Chiropractic, even though Dr Kelly felt he was too young.
He gave my 15 year old brain a vision of a positive and dynamic type of healthcare that was a joy to deliver. I was immediately inspired to choose Chiropractic as my lifelong career. That was the effect that Rodney had on many people he came in contact with. Two words defined his approach to patients and their care— enthusiasm and positivity. No matter how desperately hopeless a patient’s case was, Uncle Rod was undaunted. He believed that with the right ingredients, approach and innovative thinking, a patient’s life could be changed. His conviction of a positive outcome was infectious and I was hooked.
Rodney was a passionate teacher, and his patients were his willing or unwilling students! Listening to him explain to each of his patients the intricacies of their spinal anatomy in minute detail was both inspiring and entertaining. The patients were always in awe of his incredible anatomical knowledge, as he would explain with excited passion the function of various spinal muscles, joints, ligaments and nerves. I have no idea how much the patients understood or retained of these dissertations, but they were all impressed with his enthusiasm for helping them heal, his genuine concern for their wellbeing, and his boundless energy when it came to his profession.
Rodney was always theorising. Like all of us chiropractors, in his early years of practice he focused on finding techniques that suited him and made sense to his mind as a civil engineer (his prior profession). Adding to his Chiropractic and Osteopathic knowledge he learned acupuncture, SOT, Applied Kinesiology, Cranial Osteopathy, massage therapy, and even developed a successful vitamin company. He travelled overseas researching any adjunctive therapies that would support his patients’ recovery. Eventually, after attending an Applied Kinesiology course, he realised that using vibrational therapy on the musculotendinous junctions would strongly stimulate proprioception, while also activating reparative mechanisms in the local tissue. From this he developed his own theory and protocols around fibrosis, nerve adhesions and honed his legendary palpation skills. Anyone who ever worked with him will recall his encyclopaedic knowledge of paraspinal musculature and an incredible palpatory sensitivity. He discovered the Massator Duo, a German massage device, and quickly developed a technique of paraspinal therapy that he would continue to utilise and teach throughout his career. Many of us at CCSCC follow in his footsteps and utilise his models and methodologies of diagnosis and treatment.
Rodney was always interested and involved in the progress and politics of our profession and his other profession, Hypnotherapy. In 2000 he was awarded the Chiropractors Association of Australia Chiropractic Excellence for his contribution to the profession and specifically student education. He was a member of the CAA and then ACA throughout his career, as well as the Chiropractic and Osteopathic College of Australasia (now called Chiropractic Australia). As a Clinical Hypnotherapist, he was the founding president of the Australian School of Clinical Hypnotherapy and was on the editorial board of its Journal. He lectured at the school for many years from 1976 until the mid 2000s.
Uncle Rod had more energy than anyone I knew. When I worked with him as assistant, and then as an Associate Chiropractor after graduation, I could never keep up with him. When I arrived at work at 8am in the morning he would have already been seeing patients since 5:30 am. Then when it was time for me to head home at 6pm he would still be seeing extra patients until at least 7pm in the evening. He loved people, and always found room for them in his appointment books, or outside of his appointment books. He would race with so much energy from room to room, greeting each person he came across as a lifelong friend. His family and friends would often refer to him as “Rocket Rod”.
“Rocket Rod” could never be stopped. One morning at 5:30 am I received a phone call from his wife, Aunty Sue, to tell me that he had crashed his motorbike on his farm, then driven back to Sydney (450 kilometres), and was trying to treat patients when he should be off having X-Rays, or at least resting. I arrived at work a little while later to discover that he had broken his thumb, splinted it himself with a wooden spoon and a bunch of bandages, and also appeared to have done some kind of terrible hip injury. I had to almost wrestle him out of the room to take over his patients and get him to go and recover. He kept reappearing and I had to keep shoo-ing him away, and threatening to report him to his wife.
Chiropractors who worked with him recall with gratitude his kindness, generosity and positivity. One of the most common things he said was “good, good!”. I don’t remember him saying “no” to anybody about anything. Rod was generous to a fault. One learned not to mention any lack or need in one’s life as there was an immediate danger of Rod trying to supply the need, to his own personal detriment. He and his wife, Sue, would generously take me out to dinner after my Friday afternoon shifts, virtually every week, during my Masters, and then drop me back to my dorm on campus. I am glad that I recently thanked him, again, for all that kindness. Those dinners were filled with Rod’s recitations of hilarious stories of his misadventures while Sue and I laughed so hard that we cried.
Outside of work Uncle Rod’s number one passion was his family and his farm. When his sons were school age, every Friday after work he would load as many children and friends as could fit into his Tarago van, and they would “go bush” to his 7000 acre farm “Top Valley”, in the Central West of NSW. We cousins, who lived not too far away, would often visit and marvel at our Uncle Rod’s shenanigans. Much mischief (unsanctioned by his wife) would go on, and I’m sure many memories were made. Even then, and in between the shenanigans and farm work, locals would travel the 32 km from the nearby town, down dirt roads, seeking treatment from Rodney, and were never refused. He would meet these pilgrims in his makeshift clinic at the farmhouse, and treat them, probably wearing his bulldozer-driving clothes.
Uncle Rodney taught me many important lessons. I learned to think creatively from first anatomical and biological principles about health problems. He taught me to think holistically about not just the physicality of a person’s problem, but also their psychosocial profile and their overall nutrition and health. He taught me to be excited about anatomy, interested in the latest research, keen to share knowledge and to continue to develop my soft tissue palpation skills. But most importantly, I witnessed him rapidly build rapport with those prickly patients we all have, some days. He would welcome each person with such warmth that they were immediately disarmed and felt that somehow they had already known him for a lifetime. He would tell me— “The most powerful thing you can give people is hope”.
I believe that my uncle, Dr Rodney Steventon, will be remembered for his kindness, generosity, humour, passion and positivity. He will be remembered for his capacity to build rapport, inspire hope, and as a teacher of patients, Chiropractors and students. And while most will think of him as a great healer, I will remember him as a wonderful mentor and as a family man.