Lives of the fellows

Roger Aziz Melick

b.4 August 1925 d.15 November 1986
MB BS Sydney(1947) MRACP(1951) FRACP(1962) MD(1972) FRCP(1975)

Roger Melick was born in Sydney and died in Melbourne. His father was Aziz Nicholas Melick, a merchant. Roger was educated at King’s School, Sydney, one of Australia’s oldest schools. He qualified in medicine from the University of Sydney and did his early postgraduate training in that city, at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. He obtained his membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1951 and was elected a fellow in 1962.

Roger went to Boston, USA, for his early training in endocrinology, and he worked at the Massachusetts General Hospital from 1954-56 with the legendary Fuller Albright, and one of his earliest papers was as a co-author - describing the use of the then ‘miracle’ drug cortisone in the treatment of Addison’s disease.

Roger Melick first arrived in Melbourne in the middle 50s to join the newly created department of medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital under the chairmanship of Richard Lovell. Because of his developed interest in endocrinology he was warmly welcomed into this small but active community of endocrinologists. He was among the first of a number of medical graduates from the University of Sydney who migrated to Melbourne and added great lustre to academic medicine there.

On his arrival, Roger immediately established a vigorous programme of scientific research in endocrinology. One of his early papers established the variations in the normal patterns of the growth of body hair, which was an important contribution to clinical diagnosis in patients with hirsutism. At this time he also started quite basic research on what was to remain a lifelong interest - bone structure and function -using fairly sophisticated cell culture methods in these studies.

Roger’s research on bone and calcium regulating hormones extended over more than 30 years and his contributions to this field made him a highly respected international figure in bone and calcified tissue research. Some of his early work on the mechanical stressing of bone is only now exciting a newly awakened interest, since methods for making such studies have improved. It was typical of Roger that he undertook this work at a time, in the early ’60s, when it was technically difficult but was nevertheless a problem which needed to be solved. This attitude characterized his approach to research over the years.

A sabbatical period in the UK, in Oxford, at the MRC Bone Research Laboratory in the early 1970s with Maureen Owen and her colleagues was spent, during the early days, working on the proteins of bone. It was a difficult area to which he made substantial contributions, and in which he continued to work until his death. He was a pioneer in the development of assays for parathyroid hormone, following his work with Gerald Aurbach and John Potts. Roger made a number of original contributions in connexion with his studies of the metabolism of parathyroid hormone. Roger was a wonderful colleague to work with closely; he loved to work in the laboratory and continued to do so in a way which few of his seniority were able to maintain.

Perhaps the least known, but probably one of the most important aspects of his work was his partnership with Lester Van Middlesworth from Memphis, USA, on the detection of atmospheric pollution with radioactive iodine by the analysis of sheep thyroid glands. He dispatched his collections every two or three weeks for over 29 years - a total of more than 11,000 glands. This work helped determine relationships between the size of atomic explosions, their latitude, their dilution and the time lag in the passage of radioactive fallout between the northern and southern hemispheres. The data he collected were instrumental in ensuring that tests in the southern hemisphere were at least conducted underground. Roger continued to collect thyroid glands during his last illness, and some of these glands showed a small but significant increment of radioactivity in the southern hemisphere following the Chernobyl disaster.

When Roger took on the responsibility for students, as the Associate Dean (clinical) at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, he did so energetically and with great devotion to the welfare of the students. He became well known and well loved by a generation of students from that hospital. He had a very strong sense of fair play and his position as dean enabled him to exercise this to defend the cause of a student when he believed that some injustice was being done. He was indeed a defender of causes, and could be extremely cantankerous and difficult when confronted with what he believed to be pomposity or bureaucracy, and he took no heed of either rank or popular opinion in making his particular form of protest. He served for some years on the council of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and took on many College sacred cows.

Roger Melick’s unobtrusive, but unreserved service to the hospital, to the University of Melbourne, and to his profession will probably never be catalogued adequately. His immense dignity and cheerfulness during the long months facing his certain death were an object lesson to all. He was more concerned for his family, and for those who came to visit him, lest they be upset by his illness. He was survived by his wife Mardi, whom he had married in 1960, and their daughter and two sons.

B Hudson


(Volume VIII, page 335)

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