THE SHEPHERD FOUNDATION
THE GEORGE AND MARY SHEPHERD FOUNDATION
George Shepherd was a wealthy Melbourne oil company executive who regularly played cards with friends, seated in big upholstered chairs. But the tiny castor wheels fitted to the chairs made them difficult to move.
So from 1934 until 1939 Shepherd researched the physics of existing castors and proposed a new type of wheel that swiveled on an angled axle. With the weight of the chair offset from and below the axle, the wheel could be steered with much less effort. Shepherd made 60 different versions by hand in 1939 and fitted them to the furniture in his house.
Shortages of labour and materials in World War II frustrated his attempts to manufacture castors, but in 1946 his associate Mark Cowen set up Shepherd Castors Pty Ltd to mass-produce them. The final design encloses the axle, pintle and lubricating oil in an attractive dustproof dome, perfect for both 'high class' furniture and dirty industrial applications.
Shepherd castors were made under licence in many countries and hundreds of millions have been sold. George Shepherd used some of his fortune to set up the Shepherd Foundation in Victoria, a charitable medical diagnostic centre. By 2004, Shepherd Castors had become a US company and continued the production of George Shepherd's castors.
Source: 'Shepherd Castor Story' booklet by G F Shepherd, 1960;
George Fredrick Shepherd, a famous and successful inventor, believed that all men and women were entitled to an annual check-up at a reasonable cost. To this end he was prepared to finance an Automated Multiphasic Health Testing (AMHT) centre, similar to the Kaiser Permanente AMHT operating in the late 1960s in San Francisco.
Planning commenced in 1969 with Dr Leif Larsen, George Shepherd’s GP, Ian Anderson, his solicitor and Eric Huggard, his accountant. The Trust Deed initiating the foundation was completed in March 1970. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) had an important role in the initial Board of Trustees. The RACGP appointed two members to the seven strong Board which included a businessman and a medical specialist.
The Shepherd Foundation AMHT Centre opened at 6 Bowen Crescent South Melbourne on 4 May 1971. The AMHT profile comprised of a computerised questionnaire, covering medical history, personal history, electrocardiograph, pulse, blood pressure, anthropometry, Achilles tendon reflex relaxation time, chest Xray, audiometry, hearing, vision, blood biochemistry, full blood examination, urine chemical and dipslide culture.
Results were tabulated and reviewed by the Medical Director. A summary report, including and advice where necessary, was sent to the referring doctor. The initial charge was $50, of which most was covered by a Medicare rebate.
Patient Flow and cash flow were inadequate for some months partly due to suspicion opf this innovative development and negative reaction from some sections of the medical profession. The Trustees met weekly at this time to review the situation and nearly ran out of funds.
Suddenly circumstances changed. Free radio publicity from well-known personalities who had visited the centre turned the trickle of patients into a flood. For the next 16 years the Shepherd Foundation AMHT Centre flourished. Amongst the many initiatives, two initiatives stand out – the introduction of Pap smears for female patients and the introduction of mammography for women over 50 years of age.
Unfortunately, opposition from the AMA, sections of the medical profession and the NH&MRC increased. Ultimately, this opposition led to the government removing the Medicate Item for AMHT from the Schedule. The effect was quick and disastrous, forcing the centre to close in December 1987.
The George and Mary Shepherd story did not end there. Following the sale of equipment, $900,000 remained. In keeping with the Trust Deed’s original intention, including research into ‘causes, prevention and care of disease’, ‘improvement of medical treatment and diagnosis’, ‘educating the community and particularly employees of labour in the field of preventative medicine’ as well as ‘health screening’.
Since 1988, grants totalling several million dollars have been awarded to Victorian researchers fostering these aims.