Lives of the fellows

Richard Basil Perkins

b.9 February 1910 d.19 December 1980
BSc(1933) MB BS Sydney(1936) MRCP(1939) MRACP(1945) FRACP(1956) FRCP(1965)

Richard Basil Perkins, the only son of Dr Richard Perkins and his wife Helen Philipps, was born at Morpeth, New South Wales, in a house which has been the site of a medical practice for over a hundred years. His father was a general practitioner there, and his grandfather, AE Perkins, was also a doctor who had practised in Sydney.

Richard was educated at St Aloysius’ College, Sydney, of which he became dux before entering the faculty of medicine at the University of Sydney in 1929. He interrupted his medical course for a year to do an honours BSc in physiology and graduated in medicine in 1936, also with honours. He then became a resident medical officer at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for two years, proceeding to London in 1938, where he obtained his MRCP the following year. Having gained an appointment to the staff of the St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin, he was awarded the Chesterfield medal for 1939.

At the outbreak of World War II, Perkins returned to Australia to enlist in the RAAMC and was given command of a field ambulance. However, he expressed a firm preference for clinical rather than administrative work, and was appointed dermatologist to the 2/7 Australian General Hospital at Lae, New Guinea, where at the request of the Army Directorate he wrote a booklet on Tropical Diseases of the Skin for the guidance of medical officers.

After the war he was appointed honorary assistant dermatologist to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, eventually becoming head of the department of dermatology. He was the first Australian dermatologist to be trained in the English tradition of first qualifying in internal medicine before taking up the specialty of dermatology.

In 1956 he was elected president of the Dermatological Association of Australia, and was a foundation fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, to which he made significant contributions. Perkins was meticulous in all he did, and his opinion was eagerly sought in difficult dermatological problems because of his widespread experience and his detailed knowledge of the literature. He was also widely informed on a variety of non-medical subjects and this, together with his unobtrusive sense of humour, made him a most convivial companion for his large circle of friends.

In 1960 he was stricken by cancer of the lung which was successfully treated by surgery and radiotherapy, although this involved the sacrifice of his superior vena cava. He faced these trials with remarkable faith and courage, and after recovery returned to his duties at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and at the School of Tropical Medicine as lecturer in tropical dermatology.

In 1940 Richard married Katherine Bull who had been a theatre sister at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. This happy union gave them three sons and two daughters.

MR Joseph

[RACP Newsletter, Aug 1981, 13, No.2]

(Volume VII, page 459)

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