John Reginald Nolan spent his life helping others. The well-known chiropractor died in Whanganui on May 5, aged 86.

John's life of giving came from the chiropractic ethos - his father, Steve, also a chiropractor, ensured his two sons continued the culture of caring for patients' wellbeing.

That care extended to John designing X-ray filters that reduced up to 95 per cent of radiation experienced by the patient.

He designed the filters and marketed them internationally - and such is their ongoing success that radiographers around the world use them.


The filters were made in response to the NZ Radiation Laboratory questioning chiropractors' use of X-rays and the levels of radiation received by patients.

John Nolan was a member of a chiropractor's committee that developed the filtration system and his full skeletal X-rays were cutting edge. It was at a time - in the 1960s - when there was a concerted campaign to discredit chiropractors, but the profession continued to successfully treat their patients.

John Nolan with wife Dee, in 2010, with emergency response kit supplies.
John Nolan with wife Dee, in 2010, with emergency response kit supplies.

The former Whanganui Technical student worked at the freezing works, Larsens Concrete Tanks and at a local woolstore to fund his study at the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Iowa in the United States.

In 1956 John graduated as a doctor in chiropractic with honours and returned to Whanganui to practice with his father on Victoria Avenue.

They then moved to their purpose-built clinic at its current location on Wicksteed St.

While studying in America, John met his wife, Dee, whose parents were both chiropractors. Since 1927, the combined families had 12 chiropractors - eight in a direct line to John Nolan.

Family members are practising in the US, England and Hawke's Bay, and daughter Shaaron and her son, James, are in the family's Whanganui practice, now in its 90th year.

He practised for 58 years before he retired, at the time the longest-serving chiropractor practitioner in New Zealand.


He was a keen sportsman - he rowed for Union club in his youth, was a body builder and was in the rugby 1st XV at Tech. He played indoor basketball until age 47 and was also a Whanganui representative.

He is remembered as the generous Santa Claus who bedecked his house every year with up to 30,000 Christmas lights, and sat at the top of the drive waiting for children eager to share their gift requests.

At 70 he insisted climbing ladders to install the lights

His care and generosity extended to the community, where he was active in Rotary.

His biggest Rotary project was filling over 125 emergency boxes of non-perishable items to sustain a family of five after disasters in the Pacific Islands. This was done in the couple's basement, and John and Dee then delivered them to a warehouse in Wellington to be later dispatched by Hercules to the stricken islands.

The gentle giant as a young man
The gentle giant as a young man

For his "service above self" - the Rotary motto - John was three times awarded the Paul Harris sapphire pin, as well as other awards of significance.


At 195.5cm tall, he was "a gentle giant", and Dee remembers him having to go to Wellington to buy shoes because they didn't have them big enough for him in Whanganui.

He had a talent for terrible jokes, she said. "He would tell something with a perfectly straight face and all of a sudden you would realise it was a joke."

Daughter Shaaron remembers his selflessness, resulting in delayed Christmas dinners as he rushed out to fix someone's back.

"He would come out and see you, no matter what. I can remember Christmas dinner being held up because someone had lifted their kid's bike up and couldn't stand up."

John was always busy, and his chiropractic treatments and community service remain his legacy.

He shared the "best years of a good life" with Dee, their children Janine, Shaaron and Steve and four grandchildren.