Surgeons I Have Known


I have returned to edit this essay some ten years since it was originally written in order to paste it on to my website. Some modifications will be added and alterations made. I note that a physician has found his way to be among surgeons. This physician, Norrie Robson, made such an impression on me that I felt he needed to be elevated to the celestial heights of an honorary surgeon, and so is deserving of inclusion. 

Charles Heanley (1907 – 2008)[1]

Charles Laurence Heanley stands out as probably the most amazing surgeon I ever encountered. In 1965 I was appointed as surgical registrar at Southlands Hospital, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, part of the Worthing Group of Hospitals on the south coast of England. The Steyning Union Workhouse had been built on the Southlands site in 1835, with an infirmary added alongside a new workhouse building between 1901 and 1906. The Steyning Institution was renamed Southlands Hospital in 1932. The old workhouse buildings were still functioning as the hospital in 1965.[2]

Heanley was born in Hong Kong and educated at Epsom College and then at Downing College, Cambridge. With the inception of the National Health Service by its architect Aneurin Bevan and the Labour Government in July 1948, Charles Heanley was appointed as consultant general surgeon to the Worthing Group of hospitals. He had already been appointed surgeon in charge of the department of plastic surgery at the London Hospital, having returned there after service in Dan Camiers, France and later at Ranikhet, 6,000 feet up in the Himalayas in India. At Ranikhet, during 1941 and 1942, where he had been sent after training as a plastic surgeon with the renowned father of plastic surgery, Sir Harold Gilles, he had been commanding officer of number three British Maxillofacial Surgery Unit with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Heanley recalled; ‘We worked in the theatre from 9 until 6pm, three days a week, recovering on alternate days and hoping our patients would do the same!’

In addition to his appointments at the Worthing Group and the London Hospital, it was my understanding that he had an appointment, amazingly, as a consultant ENT surgeon at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital in Bedfordshire, north of London and also an appointment to the plastic surgery unit at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. East Grinstead was made famous during WWII as the burns unit for the RAF, developed by Sir Archibald McIndoe.

Certainly Heanley’s ENT prowess was confirmed to me in later years by an Adelaide ENT surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Ken Jones, who had received his training in ENT at the London Hospital from Charles Heanley. He, too, was in awe of the man’s surgical prowess.

One thing which struck me about Charles Heanley was that he thrived on living on the edge. He had a sleek fast Jaguar which he drove exceedingly fast. It was recorded that he was pursued by a police car down the A24 from London to Worthing and they only caught up with him as he sprinted from the Worthing Hospital car park to start his (supposed) afternoon operating list. Whether he received a driving conviction or talked his way out of it is not known. Certainly he must have spent many hours driving his beloved Jag as Worthing was 95 Km south from London along the A24 and Luton was 53 Km north from London along the M1 Motorway which would have made for easier driving.

One’s impression of Heanley was that he considered himself to be on an superior strata to the other consultant surgeons on the south coast and consequently he had few friends among his peers and certainly did not socialise with them. Two of the consultant surgeons at Southlands were New Zealanders and this may have contributed to his aloofness. For my part, as his registrar and only contact in the hospital, I found him friendly and helpful, with no prejudice towards my antipodean origins.

On one occasion I had cause to ring him at about 2.00 am. He answered the telephone in typical upper class fashion;

‘Hainley har.’

‘Oh, it’s Johnson Sir, we have bleeding duodenal ulcer which I think needs operation.’

‘Well Johnson, get the theatre ready for twenty minutes time and I’ll be over.’  

He lived close by in West Sussex somewhere. One’s wish of course, as a training registrar, would be that the consultant would assist the trainee, but understandably, in the middle of the night, this was rarely the case. It would be either, ‘You’ll manage that OK – ring me if you can’t,’ or ‘I’ll do it’.                                                                                                   

Heanley duly arrived at Southlands Hospital in his Jag and we all scrubbed up. The patient was anaesthetised on the table and the abdomen was cleaned and draped. At this stage Heanley indicated to the scrub sister to move around to his side. Standard procedure was for the surgeon to operate with the assistant opposite on the other side of the patient and the scrub sister positioning herself on the assistant’s side together with her trolley of instruments but nearer the patient’s feet. With this normal setup the surgeon would not need to turn to receive the required tool.                                                                                          The request by Heanley on this occasion was curious, but the sister obliged, whereupon Heanley positioned her trolley alongside his left elbow and told her to stand on the other side. It then became obvious what he had in mind. He would be his own scrub nurse and help himself to the tools as required – no asking and no receiving – much quicker. It was a joy to watch the complete master surgeon at work. No wasted movements, no hesitation. Gastrectomy completed in twenty minutes. Normally the procedure would take two hours in the most skilled hands, three in the less skilled. He was back home in bed inside an hour. And, yes, the patient recovered very well. 

On another occasion on one of his regular lists we had a hair lip to repair in a baby. Again, Heanley dismissed the scrub nurse as being redundant. He arranged the baby and the drapes such that the baby’s head was cradled in his seated lap and the instrument trolley was alongside. The anaesthetist was not wildly excited by the arrangement but managed. Yes, Heanley was a surgeon par excellence with the deft movements of a concert pianist playing Bach or Beethoven. It was a privilege to watch him.                                                                          To his credit he did teach me how to do bat ears. He thought it would stand me in good stead ‘down under’. He showed me how to take an ellipse of skin and then an ellipse of underlying cartilage at the back of the ear and put it all together. I think he may even have allowed me to do the other side. So much for bat ears – not one ever crossed my threshold.                                                                                                  In correspondence to the British Medical Journal in 1970, several years after his retirement, he made the interesting observation that injection of vital blue dye into any part of the breast showed lymphatic drainage to both retrosternal glands and the axilla. He also noted that dye injected into the hand tracked randomly through the axilla and it was not possible to avoid lymphoedema of the arm by conserving particular lymphatics. He had an interest in lymphoedema. 

Heanley retired in 1965 at the age of 58 which is, coincidently, the year I spent working for him at Shoreham. I trust I had no connection to that event. His recreations were swimming and archaeology. He had three sons, two of whom became doctors. He died just before his 101st birthday in February, 2008 and was buried at Hamsey Church, East Sussex, a parish church in existence well before the Norman conquest in 1066.

Hamley Church, East Grinstead

Anthony H.C Ratliff, Orthopaedic Surgeon

Some time in June or July, 1962, after having passed my Primary Examination at the College of Surgeons, I was employed as Senior House officer at Rochford Hospital, Rochford, part of the Southend Group of Hospitals in Essex at the mouth of the Thames. Little did I know at the time as I looked out from the end of Southend Pier that my great grandfather had passed through those same waters some 130 years earlier, being transported as a 20-year convict to Botany Bay.

Sadie and I had very spartan accommodation on the second floor of Acacia House in Rochford. This comprised a large room with a double bed together with a gas stove for cooking and a table for eating, all in the one room. Perhaps we had a wardrobe for our clothes. Outside the door and further down the landing was a bathroom with a large bath and, the most redeeming feature, plenty of hot water.

Rochford Square with Acacia House on left.

I was appointed to the orthopaedic department predominantly, but with some duties with the general surgeons.

The two orthopaedic surgeons were John Shelswell, a very competent and experienced surgeon, and his junior, Tony Ratliff, less competent, less experienced, and a great talker. As the theatre orderly summarised it, ‘He liked doing one operation a week and talking about it for the rest of the week!’

Tony was a relatively young man of about 40 when I knew him, had been born in Manchester and had survived the Hitler’s bombing during the war. He had worked at Manchester with the giants of the orthopaedic world of the day in Sir John Charnley, inventor of the Charnley hip prosthesis, and his mentor Sir Harry Platt.

I gained the impression that he was not particularly happy at Southend and I felt he viewed himself as an academic in the teaching hospital surroundings of a university. Technically he was very much middle of the road compared to his senior John Shelswell who was a master surgeon. In the theatre Tony talked a lot in a loud voice and tended to panic – not a good trait in a surgeon.

On one notorious occasion Tony was helping his registrar from Canada, a Dr Norm Abel, put an intramedullary Kuntscher-nail (K-nail) in a fractured shaft of femur. I may have been second assistant or even an observer, I cannot remember. All was proceeding reasonably smoothly, albeit with loud animated instructions from Tony, when they struck a problem – a major problem. The nail is long piece of stainless steel, constructed to be hammered down the central shaft of the femur from the hip end when the fractured segments are aligned. Tony had the steel hammer and the nail was about half way down when it became jammed – really jammed. Clearly, they had chosen a nail of too great a diameter to slide down the shaft. Tony’s voice went up an octave and pandemonium reigned.

There is a specially designed extractor hammer which fits into cutout in the top of the nail in order to remove it after the fracture has united. This was called for but despite the efforts of both surgeons the nail was firmly jammed and would not budge. The extractor hammer which slid up a steel shaft was smashed in the process and the procedure descended into chaos. They knew not what to do. Eventually the protruding length of the K-nail was sawn off and the procedure abandoned.

K-nail in situ.

Well, lessons for everybody, myself included. Know how to extract yourself from every possible complication and then some!

Next day on the ward round John Shelswell had the debacle described to him. No problem he declared. ‘Simply make vertical cuts in the femur to allow the shaft to give a little and out the nail would have come!’ ‘Oh,’ said Tony honestly, ‘I didn’t know that!’  

Well, despite his shortcomings, and he was rather a joke around Rochford Hospital, we of the resident staff were all beneficiaries of Tony’s teaching.

On a weekly basis he would have all of the registrars registrars around to his private house and give us intense hour-long tutorials. I remember clearly one his tutorials – given 50 years ago this year; ‘When you are asked how you would do a menisectomy in the operative viva you must start with the set-up of the patient. The position on the table, the tourniquet, the drapes – all before you get down to the details of the operation. Besides being essential information it gains you time, gets the initiative, and minimises further tricky questions!’

Tony did not last long at Rochford but moved on to more prestigious pastures at Bristol and continued his working life until the incredible age of 87. Yes, an excellent teacher and clearly it was his forte.         On one occasion, not many years ago, I was able to exchange brief greetings with him through the windows of a bus as he attended a surgical conference in Melbourne, I think it was.

Tony Ratliff’s biography

Sir Rupert Magarey General Surgeon (1914 – 1990)

Bob Magarey had a long and distinguished career in medicine and medical politics. During WWII for five years he served his country in active theatres of war, including the Middle East where he was involved in the Syrian campaign and later with the Seventh Division in the bloody conflict with the Japanese on the Kokoda Trail.

Bob was unwittingly my mentor, both during my medical student days and also throughout my surgical career. I happened to be attached to his surgical outpatient clinic in my fifth year and considered myself indeed fortunate as he was justifiably known as the ‘Prince of Tutors’. He was well organised and loved teaching. What he taught me at that time is still remembered. He would have been 42 in that year, 1956, and was a Clinical Assistant at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. A Clinical Assistant’s job in those days was a dog’s body job as Clinical Assistants at the RAH had no  operating rights but put their outpatients on the operating lists of whomsoever was their designated head of unit. The Senior Honorary Surgeons did not deign to stoop so low as to attend outpatients and actually talk to patients.  

Bob Magarey in his Prime

Around that time Bob had had a melanoma on his back diagnosed and operated upon. He elected to have block dissections of both axillae and both groins, formidable procedures for a potentially lethal condition. Fortunately, he had no recurrence. I remember melanoma was his favourite teaching topic at the time and what he taught stuck.                 In our sixth year he was elected President of the Medical Students’ Society. For some reason, unknown to me, I was elected to organise the annual Medical Students’ Dinner at the Myer Apollo Dining room, time I could ill afford, and I was answerable to the President for the organisation so I developed quite a rapport with Bob. Thanks to his sound advice the dinner went off very well!                                            My next contact with Bob was in 1965 when he was one of three Senior Honorary Surgeons appointed to the recently opened Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Woodville. I wrote to him from England after passing the FRCS hoping that he would remember me, and asking him for a job at TQEH. His reply was warm and friendly and, shortly after, I received a letter from Doug Carmen, the Superintendent, offering me a job as one of three senior surgical registrars, solely on Bob’s recommendation. Neither of them bothered to check any of my references. I rather suspect I was given the job as Sadie had nursed his patients at the Memorial Hospital, a fact I was careful to point out in my letter!                              In 1967 Bob was Chairman of the Court of Examiners of the Australasian College and whom should I have as examiner but the Chairman himself. Yes, of course there was a gall bladder patient, and yes, of course the question of his famous but somewhat maligned window operation came up.                                                                ‘Don’t be shy Ross, so and so (his fellow examiner) would love to hear all about biliary fenestration,’ he said, putting his arm across my shoulders. It was a godsend as I was not travelling at all well at that stage of the viva. I would credit my eventual pass on that occasion entirely to Bob’s powerful personality and authority as Chairman of the Court, although he never discussed it with me after, and I never asked.

In the 1970s I joined Bob on his clinic with Donald Beard as the third Visiting Surgeon on the fifith floor at TQEH. Again Bob would have had the dominant say as to whom was appointed. Don subsequently left to become Chief of Surgery at the new Modbury Hospital and Trevor Pickering took his place. We three, Bob, Trevor and myself had a most enjoyable association for some years up until Bob retired from TQEH in 1979. Trevor and I, together with our wives and young families, were guests at his picturesque farm at Mosquito Road, Mount Compass, on several memorable occasions. Bob hitched his tractor up to a trailer filled with hay bales to give the young children a ride around the farm. He pulled it to a halt on a slope and I was horrified when the whole caboose, children included, started to slip backwards down the slope and threatened to jack-knife. I pictured a life-threatening tragedy but Bob, not entirely comfortable with farm machinery, managed to arrest its backwards movement, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.                                                                    

Bob’s contribution to the medical profession during this time was amazing and he showed great leadership and wisdom in all the many offices he held. He led TQEH Medical Staff in its transition from being Honorary to salary based in 1971. He always did his homework thoroughly and we were all the beneficiaries of his skilful negotiations with the government bureaucrats of the day.                                         Bob was considerate to his patients, both public and private. Technically he was not in the top echelon of surgeons – more of a macroscopic operator than a microscopic – and he had large clumsy hands. He did not treat tissues gently but he got the job done in a reasonable fashion. He was of that era of surgeons that were more or less self-taught. They assisted their seniors with a particular procedure and then went off and did the procedure on their own patients without supervision. They had no training in teaching hospitals as apprentices under supervision.                                                              

Bob Magarey served his profession with great distinction, Chairman of the QEH Staff Society, President of the AMA of SA, Federal President of the AMA, Australasian Surgical College Councillor and Chairman of the College Court of Examiners to name a few. His Knighthood in 1880 was richly deserved and humbly accepted. Trevor Pickering and I were his close medical confreres and it was to us he turned to celebrate both his knighthood and his retirement. Sadly, he engendered some criticism with his peers but this may have been tinged with a touch of jealousy. Undoubtedly, he gave of himself to his colleagues and certainly Trevor and I have very fond memories of the man himself.                             Bob rarely talked of his WWII exploits and his experiences in the Syrian Campaign or on the Kokoda Trail, nor did he tell us that he had been mentioned in despatches in the Syrian Campaign. Various books have described his war exploits, Retreat from Kokoda, No Memory for Pain and Those ragged Bloody Heroes. 

       … It is to the everlasting credit of Magarey, his staff, the RMOs, the native carriers and the troops themselves, that not one wounded digger known to them, was left at the scene battle during this whole campaign.[1]  

[1] Peter Brune, Those Ragged Bloody Heroes: From the Kokoda Trail to Gono Beach, Allen & Unwin, p.129.

How sad it was for Bob and his family and all of us when his beloved Mary died quite quickly in 1988. He had developed dementia before her demise and his family were forced to put him into College Park Nursing Home where I visited him shortly before his death in 1990 at the relatively young age of 76. He was still at that stage a strong fine-looking man, upright, and with a full head of dark hair, well dressed in a tweed jacket and proudly wearing his college tie. He looked so out of place amid the crumbling humanity around him. We had a good chat about old times and then said our final farewells.

Louis Jonah Opit, Surgeon, Biochemist, Mathematician.

                   Professor of Community Medicine (1927-1998)

Lou Opit was born in Curramulka in South Australia. His father Leon Opit(z) was a general practitioner in Curramulka and later Torrensville and a respected member of the Adelaide Jewish community.

My first contact with Lou was when he was Sid Krantz’ senior surgical registrar at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. I was a sixth year medical student on Sid Krantz’s surgical unit. It was clear to us medical students that Lou and Sid had good rapport – perhaps because of their shared Jewishness. At all events their temperaments were similar; both outspoken, loud and confrontational. Sid had made his mark as a surgeon on the Burma Siam Railway during the war and often deferred to Lou when faced with highly academic questions. Needless to say, they were both highly intelligent for surgeons.

About this time there was intense competition between Lou and another senior registrar, Lehonde Hoare, for appointment to a clinical assistant vacancy at the RAH. The popular choice would have been Lou Opit but the powers that be appointed ‘Frosty’ Hoare and this generated some degree of ill feeling around the hospital. Was there some lingering anti-Semitism? Lou, to his credit, was unphased and joined Professor Jepson’s unit as Senior Lecturer and later as Professor Jepson’s Reader in Surgery at the recently opened Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

I next came across Lou when I rotated as Jepson’s senior surgical registrar at TQEH in 1967. Lou was Reader and Head of Unit and my job as senior registrar was to manage the day to day running of his unit, organise the operating lists, teach medical students, supervise the operating of junior registrars, and operate on the acute admissions, usually at night.

My time with Lou was memorable. He was only six years older than me and was full of fun. Highly intelligent and a lively and humorous contributor at surgical meetings where he took delight in belittling physicians. For fun he would always take the opposite side of an argument, any argument. Technically he was a good competent surgeon with good hands.

Lou Opit, Reader in Surgery, TQEH

I could detect that even at his young age of 40 he was already starting to find the challenges of surgery boring, and meetings and ward rounds frustrating and tedious. When I joined the unit he had already attached himself to the Department of Mathematics at the Adelaide University and was immersing himself in biochemistry with a biochemical scientist attached to the Department of Medicine, John Charnock. Together they made a significant scientific discovery which was published in Nature in 1965 – A Molecular Model for a Sodium Pump.  Another of his best scientific papers on ion transport was also published in Nature. This was rumoured to have been written over a bottle of red wine!      

Lou was a restless, loose cannon. At one memorable lunch time meeting of surgeons and physicians at the QEH at which his senior, Professor Dick Jepson, attended, having driven down the Port Road from the Adelaide Hospital, Lou, in his inimitable fashion, picked an argument with Dick, his senior, on a subject relating to thyroids. Dick was an acknowledged world expert on thyroids and was the first Professor of Surgery at the Adelaide University. Dick publicly took strong exception to Lou’s aggressive tone of arguing and responded, ‘It is clear that you have no need of my contributions at this establishment,’ whereupon he walked out of the meeting never to grace TQEH with his presence ever again. This was typical of Lou’s provocative ‘know all’ approach and yet he bore no malice after an argument. He was universally liked by the other university surgeons in the department and all the other visiting surgeons.

Lou had been personally responsible for persuading Peter Knight, a New Zealand surgeon whom he met at Harvard when they were both working at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Massachusetts, to disembark from his ship travelling back to New Zealand and join him in the university department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Peter had trained as a transplant surgeon in the USA and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital had a functioning animal house set-up for experimental surgery. Peter was persuaded and not long after performed the first successful kidney transplant from a live donor in Australia. Peter was a delightful person, extremely talented and I spent many happy hours assisting him in the animal house as he perfected his technique. Later we moved on to developing techniques for liver transplantation. These were performed on pigs which were duly sacrificed and divided up between us as pork for our evening meals The liver transplants never came to fruition as Peter eventually found he was unable to work with his corresponding physician in charge of the renal unit at TQEH, one James Lawrence. I could fully understand his frustrations as I had played football with Jim in the Uni A’s some years before and knew his shortcomings very well. He would try to direct the proceedings of the team from the half back flank but nobody took any notice, especially as he himself was prone to wilt under pressure.

Peter Knight with his patient – the first live donor kidney transplant performed in Australia.


Regrettably, Peter resigned and took up an appointment at London, Ontario, where he remained for the rest of his illustrious career. He was a huge loss to TQEH.

I was responsible for the ward under Lou and Peter who were very close friends professionally and socially. We had great times. On one occasion Lou took it into his head to use a Boyles anaesthetic machine as a horse. The machines were on four wheels and Lou, dressed in his theatre garb, pushed it down the theatre corridor at some speed then mounted it, and proceeded to belt it with a whip! Great fun for all, including the nurses. 

I remember Lou for his happy demeanor, his short stature, his tight curly hair with dandruff and his perpetual blepharitis  – red eyelids with scales.   In 1968 Lou resigned as Reader in the Department of Surgery and returned to Warwick University, UK, where he had been a surgical registrar in 1953. There he graduated BSc (Hons) in Applied Mathematics in 1969. His career never returned to surgery which he found too predictable and frankly boring. He was far too intelligent and creative to spend his life in surgery.

He became a Research Fellow at Kings College Hospital in London  in medical computing. He next joined the Health Service research Unit at the University of Birmingham and then moved on to become professor of Social and Preventive Medicine at Monash University before becoming Professor of Community Medicine at the University of Kent. He was also a consultant to the WHO.

Lou had a total of 11 career moves. He thrived upon the challenge of uncertainty and felt the need to periodically reinvent himself. He was a restless soul. He was also something of a paradox. He was a Professor of Preventive Medicine, but also a chain smoker and this eventually caught up with him when he developed pancreatic cancer necessitating a bile duct stent.

It was said of him by a colleague in Kent, UK, ‘Lou’s unique brand of self-expression enchanted, instructed and provoked whoever happened to be within earshot.’

He was devoted to his large family. He married Gwen Gartrell in 1952 but they divorced. When he died he left behind a partner, Jan Pahl, four children and eight grandchildren in Australia and the United Kingdom. He died from his pancreatic cancer in Canterbury in 1998. During his life Lou had not given his friends any indication of his religious convictions but before he died he arranged for his body to be flown from England to Melbourne to be buried in the Springvale Chevra Kadisha Jewish Cemetery.

                                  Lou and his first wife Gwen.

His partner, Professor Jan Pahl wrote:

During those years his love of his family and his Jewish loyalties were clear to all his friends. He would frequently quote from the Talmud: one of his favourites was, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?”. He attended the Jewish synagogue in Chatham, where, after he died his body was prepared for burial following the Jewish funeral rituals. His three children then living in England and I then flew with his body to Melbourne for burial in the Springvale Chevra Kadisha Cemetery. The names of his children and grandchildren, and my own name, are on the headstone of his grave.

Colin Gordon Paull, General Surgeon (1929-2002)

The following is the eulogy on Colin Paull’s professional life by the author on the occasion of his funeral in March, 2002, and the basis of an obituary in ‘The Advertiser’ March 16, 2002.

I am honoured and humbled to be asked by Colin’s family to say a few words on this sad occasion about our dear friend, husband, father, grandfather and colleague, Colin Gordon Paull.

Colin was a country boy, born in Adelaide. His father was a school inspector and the family moved around from Pt. Lincoln, Kadina to Mt Gambier.

Colin was a gentle person but physically and mentally very robust. There is no tougher nursery than the boarding house at Prince Alfred College. One either sinks or swims, and it is on record that, as a boarding house prefect, he had no hesitation in taking the slipper to his young friend Trevor May.

He entered medicine at Adelaide University in 1947 and graduated in 1952 and was an intern at the Adelaide Hospital in 1953.

In 1954 he married Peg and worked for a brief period in Joe Sweeney’s practice at Croydon to accumulate funds before travelling to the United Kingdom in 1955 to undertake his surgical training. This was the trodden path of a generation of surgeons in the 50s and 60s.

Colin worked at Tunbridge Wells and Romford, passed his FRCS in 1958 and returned to Adelaide, now with two young children, Darren and Geoff, then subsequently two more children, Susan and David.

He was appointed as the first Junior Surgical Registrar at the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital when it eventually opened in 1959. Bill Proudman was his Senior Registrar and John O’Brien Honorary Assistant Surgeon. Those three surgeons set the high standards of surgery and service at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for the 20th century.

Colin was appointed to the Honorary staff in 1963 and when this system was terminated in 1971 he became a Senior Visiting Surgeon, a post which he held until his retirement from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1994 at the age of 65.

His contribution to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital over 36 years was enormous. Outpatients, operating, teaching students and registrars, middle of the night calls down the Port Road, the myriad of committees which included serving on the Executive of the Staff Society, and then Chairman of the Staff Society during a particularly difficult time when there was acrimony between staff and administration – sentiments very foreign to Colin.

He was also Secretary of the State College Committee, served on the Murray Valley Advisory Committee and the Breast Support Group.

For most of his 36 years at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Colin assumed responsibility for the colo-rectal surgery including most of the very difficult and worrying secondary referrals.

In 1968 I was indeed fortunate to be asked to join with Colin and Trevor Pickering in an association that was to last 30 years. We all enjoyed each other’s company, shared cases and on calls, and I cannot remember one disagreement in all those years. When ‘bleeps’ came in Colin steadfastly refused to carry one, and, of course, mobile phones were totally unacceptable.

On the several occasions when we had to dispense with the services of a particular secretary who did not measure up, Trevor and I would always nominate Colin to do the deed because we knew he would do it oh so gently – usually finishing with his arm around the unfortunate girl.

Colin hated change. I don’t think he ever sold a car – he just continued to acquire them and for a number of years had five in his yard – eventually he gave two away to his children. His favourite was his old BMW 2002, 25 years old. I remarked to him one day that we would never achieve fashionable practices with that old rust bucket outside our surgery door. Just before he retired in 1998 he delighted in showing me the repainted vehicle with all the rust cut out and fibre glassed over – well almost all the rust.

Colin lived for and loved surgery. He wanted it to go on forever. Family, golf, gardening and in his earlier days, tennis, were his abiding joys. He enjoyed playing golf with Peg, and in a late afternoon the two of them would often be found on Kooyonga golf course.

Colin and I took it in turns to ‘mind the shop’ for our separate mid week golf days for 25 years. On Wednesdays, in between patients, he would analyse his Tuesday round with me, hole by hole, shot by shot. ‘I must get my shoulder under and through with my putting stroke!’

Colin was a surgeon’s surgeon – surgeons would choose him for their operations:

            – he was diagnostically sound

            – technically of the highest skill, gentle on tissues, soft hands

            – he was patient

            – a good temperament in tight situations

– always retained his sense of humour and we all know what a funny man he could be              – he was modest about any successes he may have had  

Most surgeons are first and foremost technocrats. Colin had all the technical skills but he was first and foremost a physician. His patients adored him. Mrs Butler knitted him jumpers and socks. Mrs Stones regularly brought in her home made cakes. He had time to sit and talk to them.

Colin’s example lifted those about him to function on a higher plane and the legacy he leaves is one of example and unstinting service. I picture him with his right forearm deep in the pre-sacral space and a boyish glint in his eyes – happiness personified.

Colin lived a life for which we can all be thankful and his family very proud. He did the work required of him by the Ultimate Healer and was always prepared to walk the extra mile. Colin will be sorely missed by friends and colleagues alike.

I have focussed on his profession but Colin was equally successful in the even more important sphere of his family of whom he was very proud and his children will speak about that.

Peg has shown extraordinary strength and devotion over the last six months and to Peg, Susan, Derren, Geoffrey and David, and their spouses and the four grandchildren, we extend our condolences.

I would just finish with John Donne:

                   ‘One short sleep past we wake eternally

                   And death shall be no more

                   Death thou shalt die.’

              Colin Paull 1929 – 2002

Morris Franklin JR, Director, Texas Endosurgery Institute, San Antonio, Texas

Morris at lunch at d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant, McLaren Vale, 2015

My connection with Morris goes back many years. In fact his name first came up when I was appointed the inaugural head of the newly formed Colo-Rectal Unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1992. At that stage Alex Karatassis and I were desperately keen to direct the unit’s interest towards laparoscopic colorectal surgery, an infant technology that we felt was the future direction in which colorectal resections was destined to head. At that stage only three surgeons in Australia had an interest in this area – Russell Stitz in Brisbane, Tom Wilson in Sydney and Professor Les Bokey at Concord Hospital also in Sydney. Melbourne were notable by their absence from any interest.

Our research revealed that the biggest name in this area was Morris Franklin from San Antonio, Texas. He conducted an annual course in Maui which attracted participants from all over the world although mostly from USA. In November, 1992 I attended his course in Maui and at the end of the course approached him with a view to attracting him to TQEH in Adelaide and helping to put us on the map so to speak. His reply was warm and friendly, typical of his demeanour, ‘Why, I’d just love to come to Adelaide. Orstralia is such a great place and I love it!’

I was overwhelmed with his reply and upon return to Adelaide set about planning his visit with gusto.

With the cooperation of the QEH we managed to secure our own dedicated operating theatre for our use every Monday afternoon, our dedicated staff for laparoscopic colorectal surgery together with donated instruments from the Ethicon company who supplied them free of charge. Together Alex Karatassas and I battled on and made slow but steady progress, On one occasion we brought Russell Stitz down from Brisbane to demonstrate some techniques and on another occasion Tim Wilson from Sydney.

 Russell Stitz demonstrating a laparoscopic procedure about 1993.

On March 10, 1995 I organised a major meeting at the QEH with the drug firm Johnson and Johnson paying the full cost of bringing and accommodating Morris Franklin from Texas, Victor Fazio, Head of Colo-Rectal Surgery from the Cleveland Clinic and Russell Stitz, President of the Australian College, from Brisbane. The meeting had an excellent turnout from around Australia and the Near East and was well received. Morris stayed on to operate for a day or so after and we got to know him better.

Morris Franklin, Victor Fazio and Russell Stitz at 1995 conference.

One of the cases we asked him to operate on was enormously difficult but the true skill and dexterity of the man was plain for all to see. Not only his skill but his temperament under pressure in strange surroundings was fully demonstrated.

Two of our registrars, Alex Karatassis and Peter Hewett, went to San Antonio to work with him, each for a week or two, and this was of great benefit to our unit.

Morris returned to Adelaide again in 2013 for a further meeting and also in 2015. His great love had been to box up and transport his 1923 open Rolls Royce tourer which he had lovingly restored, and drive it around Tasmania or along The Great Ocean Road in Victoria. In fact on his last visit he considered purchasing a similar vintage Rolls Royce to be available for his subsequent visits.

A vehicle identical to that belonging to Morris!

In 2015 Morris Franklin was in his early 70s, had had coronary artery stents around 1990 and a bypass more recently. I asked him on one occasion;

          ‘Are you planning to retire Morris?’

          ‘Ah plan to die with mah boots on in the operatin’ theatre – yes sir!’

On the first occasion we encountered Morris in 1995 he had with him his wife, but she spent her whole time in Adelaide at the Casino. Needless to say she did not last very much longer and on the last occasion in 2015 he had with him Carla Stone and they spent some time patting and stroking each other on the social outings. On this last occasion we received an invitation to ‘a Gala event under the Big Sky in Montana,’ a reference to a ranch he was building ‘overlooking the glorious Madison Valley’ in Montana. This event will be a ‘Celebration of Life, of Friends, and Fellowship to be held from August 6 – 9, 2015, on the property.’ The closest airport – 52 miles away in Bozeman, Montana. Tempting as the invitation was, Sadie and I decided we were too old to face such a trip but our good friends Alex Karatassas and partner Carla did visit him an his ranch.

Well, they say Texans are larger than life, and most certainly this applies to Morris Franklin. A superb surgeon of vast experience with beautiful soft hands in the theatre. A great teacher and a towering world figure in surgery; generous to a fault and it has been my good fortune to call him a friend.

Morris died on August 2, 2020 in San Antonio and a worldwide online memorial service was subsequently held. Alex Karatassis was honoured to give the Australian contribution to the service which he duly did at 3.00 am in the morning.  

D’Arcy Sutherland, Cardiothoracic Surgeon 1913-2008

D’Arcy Sutherland was probably the most gifted and complete surgeon that I ever came across. He was not only technically the master surgeon but his medical knowledge was broad and his political knowhow was astute. The College of Surgeons of Australasia made an excellent choice in electing him President of the College in 1978, a post which he filled with distinction.

D’Arcy’s father, Alan, was killed in a flying accident in UK in 1917 whilst serving as a pilot officer in the Royal Flying Corps, predecessor of the RAF, when D’Arcy was only four years old.  D’Arcy’s only sibling, Lance, joined the RAAF and died in a very similar accident practising aerobatics just before WWII. 

D’Arcy Sutherland in his prime    

D’Arcy and his brother attended St. Peter’s College on a bursary for the sons of old scholars who had died on active service. The decision for D’Arcy to do medicine was made by the headmaster, Cannon Julian Bickersteth, and he attended the University of Adelaide on a scholarship graduating in 1937.

He was an excellent sportsman playing cricket in the St Peter’s College first eleven, earning University and Australian Blues in baseball and he had a single figure golf handicap for over forty years, lowest three.

In 1938 D’Arcy went to London to commence surgical training but WWII broke out a few months after he passed his Primary Exam so he returned to Australia and spent the next five years in the RAN rising to the rank of Surgeon Lieut. Commander serving on various ships including HMAS Platypus and HMAS Australia.

D’Arcy returned to London in 1947 and trained in the emerging specialty of Thoracic Surgery. He had the good fortune to work under the doyen of British thoracic surgery Russell Brock. By coincidence Russell Brock’s signature (he was by that time Lord Brock) appears on my FRCS certificate as the then President of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1964.

On his return to Adelaide in 1946 he set up the new thoracic surgical unit at the RAH. The new theatre block, the McEwin Building, with six operating theatres on the first floor, was opened in 1946. This meant that the old Theatre Number One was available for D’Arcy Sutherland’s thoracic surgical unit. He had exclusive use of this theatre with its two theatres and a 12 bed recovery area.

In 1947 D’Arcy’s first lung resection (lobectomy) was performed on my sister Elvia aged 25 who had suffered from bronchiectasis following measles infection as a child in Melbourne. Our family visits to see her in the postoperative wards of Lomman and Lundie at the RAH left a lasting impression on her young brother then aged 13. She made an uneventful recovery but remained troubled by residual disease at the base of her other lung.

D’Arcy married Margaret Higgins, sister of Bruce, who was a renal physician, and was to become a very close sailing friend of our family in the 70s. The Sutherlands had three children, two of whom became surgeons and one followed in his father’s footsteps to become elected as president of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.  D’Arcy’s only Achilles’ heel, regrettably, was his fondness for womanising among the theatre staff.

My contact with D’Arcy began in 1959 when I returned from New Zealand after doing my internship there. As a second year I was allocated to be the only intern on his unit for some six months, assisting him at operations, admitting his patients and managing all their postoperative care. It was a stimulating six months in an emerging specialty. It was a year or two before the introduction of the heart lung machine and open heart surgery. Heart operations at that time were performed by suturing a plastic well to the auricle of the heart following which D’Arcy would strap a knife blade to his index finger and then blindly put his finger into the atrium and cut through the mitral stenosis and close up.

D’Arcy’s assistant on these occasions was often Howard Brown who was also trained as a thoracic surgeon. I noted, however, that D’Arcy never permitted Howard to do a heart procedure on his own, delegating him to the more mundane thoracic procedures such as oesophagoscopies and such like. Howard later became a colleague of mine at TQEH after he was appointed as our thoracic surgeon. D’Arcy was probably selfish in not allowing Howard to do any cardiac surgery but I’m sure he had noted, as had I, that Howard’s deftness, rhythm and economy of movement as a surgeon was well below his own.

Interestingly Howard, in his years as a medical student, had courted my youngest sister Lesley, at that stage a trainee nurse or pro as they were called, at the RAH. This would have been during the latter stages of WWII. There were several problems, one was that he was a strict Catholic which was a significant problem in that era, another that he was five feet nothing tall, and the final straw was that he bored her incessantly with his tales of his accomplishments on the golf course. I remember him coming to our home at Woodville to meet my father but eventually he gave up when it was plain that his cause was lost. When I resumed my acquaintance with Howard some 15 years later I did not remind him and he clearly did not make my connection with his former girl friend. His eventual wife, Sheila, also a doctor and somewhat dumpy, happily bore him some eight children and so she had little time to practise medicine! One of his sons later became an orthopaedic surgeon.

It was a very happy six months I spent on the thoracic unit. I admired D’Arcy’s total commitment to his patients. Wherever he had been during the evening after an operating session he always dropped in to the recovery ward to check his patients and make sure I had the underwater sealed drainage functioning properly.

Come morning tea time, which the operating team enjoyed in the break between cases, our Medical Superintendant, Bernard Nicholson, would always find himself in the vicinity of our operating list and join us. He was a pucca Englishman and was courting Pauline at the time. D’Arcy, of course, never one to miss a political opportunity welcomed him and encouraged him and no doubt the favour was returned in higher circles as Bernard wielded considerable power and influence. Pauline and Bernard eventually married I learned later. Bernard, of course, was instrumental in my having to do my house surgeon year in New Zealand the year before. When he offered me a less than inspiring roster at the RAH in May, 1958, I tried to barter with him as I knew the RAH was short of house surgeons. He pulled rank and said to me ‘Take it or leave it!’

Foolishly and with false bravado I said, ‘Then I’ll leave it’.

This meant, of course, that I would have to look elsewhere for a job. To his credit, however, one year later in May 1959, when I was looking for a job back at the RAH, he bore me no malice and readily accepted my application, offering me on that occasion a very acceptable roster of Professorial Medicine, thoracic surgery and neurosurgery.

This old photograph was taken in 1960, the year after I had worked on the clinic and just before the introduction of the Melrose bypass machine in November 1960 which revolutionised cardiac surgery. This photograph shows Howard Brown, third from right, elevated on his additional stool, D’Arcy Sutherland, fourth from right, the intern fifth from the right in the position I had occupied the year before, and the anaesthetist Pauline Daniels, second from the right.

One final word about Bernard. Later in 1959 or early 1960 we were enjoying a rather raucous party in Bice building. At that time there were supposedly unbreakable glasses on the market and we took to testing them by throwing them at the brick fireplace. Disappointingly every single one broke leaving a pile of shattered glass in the room. Next day Bernard called us all together and the culprits, me included, confessed and were docked 10% of our annual salary which was meagre enough anyway. Due to previous such similar episodes from our forbears over the decades at the RAH the hierarchy had found it necessary to write this clause into house surgeons’ contracts. Notwithstanding I did give good service to the RAH and Bernard and I finished as good friends.

Bernard Nicholson One last memory of D’Arcy is worth recording. The Medical Students’ Society integrated the medical students of all years. We would have evening meetings perhaps every month to which students of all years were invited. A couple of students would volunteer to present papers after a Business Meeting and ending with supper. Each year a prominent medical dignity would be elected as out President and it was a much sought after post as it signified that that person was well respected by the students as a teacher. Somewhere around my fourth or fifth year D’Arcy was our president for the year. As was customary at our Annual General Meeting the president would deliver an address on the topic of his choosing. In this particular year D’Arcy chose to talk on ‘Choosing a Career in Medicine.’ I remember being shocked and disappointed when he said that those who had not achieved a credit in at least one of the six years should probably not consider a postgraduate qualification as they were not capable enough. Needless to say, I fell into that category. Perhaps because of his comments or in spite of them I quietly resolved to prove him wrong!

D’Arcy finished as Director of a Cardiothoracic Unit in Melbourne in 1977 and thereafter held several influential medical posts before finally retiring in at the age of 75 to establish a cool climate vineyard in the Adelaide Hills. He died in 2008 aged 95.

Trevor Alfred (‘Jim’) Dinning, CMG, Neurosurgeon, 1919-2003

Jim Dinning I remembered when I was a student at Adelaide University in the early fifties. He had been the chief architect in setting up efficient neurosurgical services in South Australia and I was privileged to work on his unit at the RAH for some six months in 1959.

Jim, whose father was the headmaster of Adelaide High School, graduated in Medicine from the University of Adelaide in 1942. He served as an army medical officer in the latter stages of WWII during which time he unfortunately developed pulmonary tuberculosis and was incapacitated for some two years.

 Jim Dinning in his younger years.

In 1951 he travelled to Guy’s Hospital, London to pursue a career in neurosurgery, returning to the RAH in 1953. He established modern neurosurgical units at both the RAH and the Children’s Hospital. He had a couple of predecessors in neurosurgery in Adelaide, Sir Leonard Lindon being the more prominent but neither were properly trained and Jim was the first fully trained neurosurgeon in Adelaide. He established a state wide integrated neurosurgical service with proper standards and training programs and was a superb diagnostician, teacher, operator and scholar.

As with thoracic surgery I found myself as the sole intern on the unit looking after the patients of Jim, his assistant Donald Simpson, the  neurologist Dr Gordon and his subordinate neurologist Dick Rischbieth. I had to take all the new admissions, see the consults, look after the inpatients and attend all the operations, many of which went for six hours. It was a busy job with little time for R and R. Nevertheless, it was exciting, different and hugely educational. Neurosurgeons, I found, were a class apart and had their own very individual routines at operation, one would almost say religious rituals, with wet drapes, burr holes, Gigli saws and a total disregard for the passage of time and the need for bodily functions. I quickly fell into their pattern of living and sleeping, or rather not sleeping.

Jim (and Donald) would happily come in at any time of the day or night if needed, Jim in his little Morris Minor and Donald also in his modest conveyance. I admired them, was happy, and got on well with the whole unit. Upon my departure Jim presented me with a book, ‘The Student Life’. I puzzled over his choice as I would never describe myself as an ardent student. Nevertheless, the thought that I may have satisfied their demanding needs gave me great pleasure.

At the time of my working on the unit their routine was somewhat unorthodox. For instance, Sunday morning was spent, not going to church, although Donald years later told me, ‘The Simpson family have always been Unitarians’, but rather classifying the week’s work in the department. We would go through each case and classify according to the presenting symptoms, the findings on examination, the operation if performed, the pathology of the specimen and the results. These records were intended to be the basis of future research and papers presented at scientific meetings. It was a tedious way to spend every Sunday morning after a heavy week’s work but demonstrated the total commitment of these people.

Several incidents come to my mind. On one occasion we were doing a ward round at the RAH, the patients as usual being scattered far and wide and it was my responsibility to make sure no one was left out. We were walking across the quadrangle in military file as was customary, Jim, our leader in front, Donald one step behind, followed by the two neurologists (physicians were never allowed to precede surgeons) and with me bringing up the rear. Whom should we meet coming in the opposite direction but one, Sol Posen. Sol, as his name would suggest, was of the Jewish faith, and was probably the smartest guy of his era although he had very strong opposition to this claim – Jim Lawrence, Ian Forbes, and Colin Schwarz to name a few. Sol was the resident Senior Medical Registrar at the time, also a little older as he entered the medical course as a mature adult.

Sol came to a halt at the front of our platoon and addressed our commandant, ‘Sir, did you see that case I admitted during the night and on whom I did a lumbar puncture?’

‘Indeed we did Dr Posen, and we were surprised you had done this procedure. You could have killed this man! You were lucky he did not cone his medulla into the foramen magnum. In future we would be obliged if you would contact us for an opinion before embarking on such a foolhardy venture and we would be pleased to oblige!’

‘… But … but Sir, this would have been a very unlikely outcome.’

‘Good morning Dr Posen,’ and with that finish to any further discussion the platoon again moved forward, in step, noses in the air, across the quadrangle, and without a backward glance leaving poor Sol open mouthed and stammering.

It was the only occasion on which I had reason to question Jim. Sol was the nicest person one could ever come across and whether Jim’s comments were reasonable I could not assess. At the time I wondered whether anti-Semitism was alive and well as Jim was not a vindictive man. Perhaps he thought Sol was making decisions beyond his area of expertise and needed a reprimand. At all events Sol took it badly and when I adjourned to Bice building for morning tea after the ward round finished, I found Sol surrounded by his colleagues heatedly discussing his encounter with the great man.

On another occasion the Neurosurgical Platoon were marching past D’Arcy Sutherland’s thoracic surgical suite. He had inherited the old original theatre block and adjacent beds for his unit.

‘How does this man acquire such real estate for his thoracic empire and we have nothing for neurosurgery?’ he asked his followers.

No answer was forthcoming but it was clear to me, having worked on both units, that the political nous of D’Arcy was far, far ahead of innocent Jim who was a plodder by comparison.

Jim would have been a good poker player. He never showed any emotion regardless of the circumstances. Nor did Donald for that matter.

Donald was eccentric. He spoke in a cultured St Peter’s College accent with pursed lips. On one occasion after I had assisted him with a six hour operation he spoke to me in the change room, ‘You know Johnson, despite my puny physique, I have remarkable stamina!’ Yes, I thought, correct on both counts, but said nothing.

On another occasion Donald was operating on a brain one Monday morning. His two anaesthetists at the top end of the table were discussing the weekend football results as anaesthetists tend to do.

‘Donald, you wouldn’t be interested in football, what do you do in your spare time?’

Donald paused, looked up and thought for a few seconds, ‘Well, I enjoy gardening, I collect stamps, and if there is any time left over, I copulate with my wife!’ There were no further comments from the top end of the table. Score – Donald one, anaesthetists zero.

Donald in those days was pioneering stereotactic thalamotomy as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. This was in 1959 and I noted with interest that it has been revived now in 2018, probably with more precision and more success. Our Sunday morning classifications included filing the before and after moving films of the patients’ tremors before and after the operation. No remarkable change if I remember correctly.

Yes, I enjoyed that six months at the end of which Jim presented me with a book, ‘The Students’ Life’. It has always puzzled me why he chose such a book as I would never qualify as a successful student by any stretch of the imagination!

Many years later when I returned to Australia with Sadie and our four children after choosing a career in surgery, we looked at Jim’s house at Mitcham which came up for sale when he retired. We could not afford it but my notable impression was the large etching of a skull on the glass dining room door.

Jim had a wide range of interests included bee keeping and sheep breeding. After retirement he assisted his daughter in her veterinary practice, proving to be a fine anaesthetist, though a rather unskilled animal theatre nurse.

Postscript; By extraordinary coincidence, this very week as I write this, in March 2018, Donald Simpson, now aged 94 has had the misfortune to fall and fracture his hip, so his future is very uncertain as he is very frail, no longer the man ‘with remarkable stamina’. Donald died in May 2018. His funeral was held in the Burnside Anglican Church, the church of his wife. He had confided to me on one occasion after he purchased two of my books, Sentenced to Cross the Raging Sea, that he and ‘all the Simpsons’ were traditionally Unitarians, a group incidentally, with whom I share much affinity. Donald had a passion for history, taking a diploma in applied history in his retirement. On one occasion I attended an hour lecture which he delivered on ‘The surgeons of the East India Company’. He delivered this complicated, detailed lecture off the cuff without once referring to any notes. An extraordinary achievement.                                    Donald Simpson invented ‘Dinning’s Law’ named for his colleague ‘Jim’ Dinning. This law states that ‘There is no operation that wouldn’t be better performed by a neurosurgeon!’ The occasion on which Donald first enunciated this aphorism was a visit by Adelaide’s neurosurgeons to Adelaide’s first neurosurgeon, Sir Leonard Linden, who had had the misfortune in his dotage to fracture his hip and had been given a hip replacement by an orthopod and was showing signs of extensive bruising from bleeding following the operation. He displayed his extensive bruising to the assembled neurosurgical entourage.

  Jim Dinning and Donald Simpson – the Neurosurgical team 1959 – identical expressions?

Having been both trained as an orthopaedic surgeon in England and worked with the neurosurgeons I feel I am qualified to comment on Dinning’s Law! There is no doubt neurosurgeons had a ritual in their operating, one might almost say it bore religious connotations, and one half expected incense – wet drapes sewn to the margins of the scalp incision and the use of small ‘patties’ which were used to absorb any collecting blood prior to the gentle use of the diathermy to coagulate any bleeders. This procedure was accompanied by the incantations, in turn, of ‘Patty to you, patty to me.’

Measures all designed, of course, to minimise trauma to delicate brain tissue. However, these measures came at the cost of doubling the operating time, or in the case of Donald, often trebling it. The length of time taken in an operation is important – long operations certainly increase morbidity and so, although the risk of postoperative bleeding is minimised by the neurosurgical technique, the time taken increases the risk of morbidity. One cancels out the other. Conclusion – ‘Dinning’s Law’ in invalid! 

Sir Hugh ‘Norrie’ Robson, Kt, first Professor of Medicine at the Adelaide University, 1917-1977.

Norrie Robson I had the pleasure of working for, as his house surgeon for four months, in 1959. What a delightful man he was; a kind, Edinburgh Scot, of the utmost integrity and charm.

Norrie graduated from Edinburgh in 1941 and in his first year after graduation worked with Sir Stanley Davidson whose text book we all used as students.

In 1942 Norrie married and joined the Royal Navy as a Surgeon Lieutenant and served in the Western Approaches, Normandy, Arakan and Malaya.

Norrie’ as I remember him. 

He passed his physicians exam, MRCP, in 1947, and became  lecturer in medicine in Edinburgh the same year. In 1953 at the age of 35 he was appointed to the chair of Medicine at the Adelaide University. He was given a cool reception by the establishment at the RAH who thought he was an intruder into their domain of academic medicine. However, his towering personality overcame all these setbacks and he was soon the driving force in the medical school as a whole.

In 1959 Norrie was elected Dean of the Faculty and had numerous other appointments thrust on him including President of the Australian Society of Haematology.

In 1966 Professor Robson was appointed Vice Chancellor of Sheffield University. Shortly after this appointment Norrie developed acute rheumatoid arthritis. Norrie received a well-deserved knighthood in 1974. He soldiered on in his usual uncomplaining manner until he suddenly became ill in his study and soon after died on December 11, 1977 aged only 60.

Sir Hugh was a great man with self-effacement characterising his conduct. He was never aloof and always had time to listen to the problems of anyone who approached him, from cleaners to students to fellow professors.

My time with him in 1959 he made very enjoyable and instructive. Being the Professorial Unit students vied with each other to get on the unit so we had the crème de la crème of the fourth year students on the unit and considerable responsibility fell on me to instruct them. Although I had the advantage of being graduated over one year, the likes of Carlien Fahy, Peter Wise (two Jewish students), Dick Kimber and others, found my theoretical knowledge somewhat wanting, although on the practical side I was well ahead.

One thing happened on his unit that helped me immensely in my career. Being the professorial unit, we had visiting dignitaries come on our ward rounds from time to time. On one occasion we had Professor Ray Farquharson visit us from the Toronto General Hospital. A very nice man and highly credentialed in Canada. Serendipitously, I found myself sitting next to him at lunch in Bice Building after the ward round, a sort of serve yourself affair and find your own seat. He politely engaged me in conversation and enquired regarding my medical aspirations. I told him that really medicine was not my ambition but my leanings were more towards surgery. I went on to explain that having been a very middle of the road student opportunities in Adelaide were very limited for me. What I really sought was a year in an anatomy department but my credentials were not good enough. He listened very politely and then said one of his very good friends was the Professor of Anatomy at Toronto and that he was very partial to having foreign students as demonstrators. He wrote down my name and address and promised to speak to him on my behalf.

I fully expected never to hear from him again but low and behold an aerogram arrived a month or so later offering me a year’s appointment in Professor John Duckworth’s Anatomy Department in Toronto with plenty of time off to study. I accepted, but therein lies another story.

In more recent years, in my 80s, I have had occasion to consult Hugh Robson’s daughter Caroline, a very competent General Practitioner in the practice I attend in North Adelaide. We had a very pleasant chat about her father and I was able to tell her what a great man he had been and whatever complaint I was attending for was somewhat forgotten as our reminiscing was much more important!

[1] Biographical entry, Royal College of Surgeons, Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows Online, accessed August 2012.

[2]   Accessed August, 2012.

[3] Peter Brune, Those Ragged Bloody Heroes: From the Kokoda Trail to Gono Beach, Allen & Unwin, p.129.

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