Building a family dynasty
For more than 100 years the Verco family—headed by Sir Joseph Cooke Verco—has been a towering influence on medicine, dentistry and the University of Adelaide.
In 1840, a young stonemason named James Crabb Verco arrived in Adelaide to help build the new colony of South Australia.
Nearly 175 years later, his contribution to the State can be measured in far more than mere bricks and mortar. He began a family dynasty which over the generations has made a huge contribution to South Australia through its strong links with the University of Adelaide.
More than 15 direct descendants have earned qualifications from the University, with the majority of those coming from the fields of medicine and dentistry.
The broader family contains many other distinguished Adelaide names including Margarey, McMichael and Ludbrook, and not least of all J. Robin Warren, who graduated in medicine in 1961 before going on to win the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2005.
James' fourth son, Sir Joseph Cooke Verco, was closely involved with the University through his involvement in both medicine and dentistry.
But it was a contribution that nearly did not happen: he left school at the age of 16 and began work as a clerk in the railways at Kapunda.
He quickly realised it was not the type of career he had envisaged and returned to school and studied classics before matriculating.
After studying medicine in London for most of the 1870s, he returned to Adelaide in 1878 to pursue his career--a move that coincided with the rise of the newly formed University.
In 1885, along with Edward Stirling, he helped found the University of Adelaide Medical School, a move made possible with funding from Sir Thomas Elder and Mr J.H. Angas.
Sir Joseph's nephew, William Alfred, was one of the first graduates from the new Medical School in 1890. But reprising his family's masonry past, in 1912 he helped build the first pre-stressed concrete building in Adelaide, with the engineer being none other than General Sir John Monash.
Located at the corner of North Terrace and Stephens Place, the Verco Building was six stories high and remained Adelaide's tallest building for some 20 years. Sir Joseph also played a major role in establishing the University's Dental School after World War I, acting as Dean from 1920 to 1928. At the time he was also Dean of Medicine.
These twin streams of medicine and dentistry have continued to intertwine with the Verco family ever since.
Several of James Crabb Verco's grandchildren went on to make significant contributions in both fields. Stanley and Peter Verco were pioneers in radiology, and Dr Peter Joseph Willis (Joe) Verco was the first graduate of the University in the specialty of Paediatric Dentistry, and just the second in Australia.
Joe is also the only dentist to have been awarded a Baillieu Medical Research Grant for postgraduate work.
His two brothers, Christopher and William, both have medical qualifications from the University—Medicine and Dentistry respectively—while his son Sam also obtained a dental and medical degree and is now specialising in oral and maxillo-facial surgery.
"We are obviously proud of our name and those that have come before us, and that there are expectations," Joe Verco said.
"But I think it's equally as gratifying that we can give back in other ways. Three generations of Vercos served across the Australian Defence Forces in the major wars of the 20th century.
"Some of our patients have also gone on to become doctors and dentists. It is gratifying to see that for those who follow, we can help to shape their professional career paths."
story by Ben Osborne
Vercos with University of Adelaide qualifications*
Sir Joseph Cooke Verco, co-founder of Adelaide Medical and Dental Schools
Dr William A Verco (MBBS 1890)
Dr Reginald John Verco (MBBS 1907)
Dr J Stanley Verco (MBSS 1913)
Dr Ron Verco (MBBS 1928)
Dr Geoffrey Verco (MBBS 1937)
Dr Luke Verco (MBBS 1940)
Dr Peter W. Verco (MBBS 1940, MD 1942)
Dr Patricia Verco Wyllie (MBBS 1965)
Dr Christopher J Verco (MBBS 1972)
Dr P Joseph W Verco (BDS 1973, BSc (Dent) Hons. 1975, MDS 1977)
Dr William J Verco (BDS 1976)
Dr Rose Verco (M Pub Hlth 1993)
Dr Samuel Joseph Verco (BDS 2001)
Penny Verco (B Ag Sc - Hons 2002)
Annabel Verco (B Com (Acc) 2003, LLB Hons. 2005)
Susanna Verco (B Ag Sc 2006, Grad Dip Ed 2007)
This list is a representation of Verco graduates and is not a complete listing.
From left: brothers Chris, Joe and William (right) Verco with Joe's son, Sam (second from right)
The Verco family at the dinner to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the University's Medical School in 2010: MaryLou, Annette, Joe, Sam, William, Patty, and Rose and Roger Boucaut
Dr Joe Verco presenting Isaac Liau with the 2010 Sir Joseph Verco Memorial Prize, which is awarded annually to a final year Bachelor of Dental Surgery student who has made an outstanding contribution to the School as an undergraduate.
Joseph Stanley Verco (far right)—nephew of Sir Joseph Cooke, and grandfather of Joe, Chris, William and Rose—pictured with his graduating University of Adelaide medical class in 1913.