Lives of the fellows

Thomas Inglis Robertson

b.25 July 1922 d.5 December 2000
MB BS Sydney(1945) MRACP(1949) MRCP(1951) FRACP(1961) FRCP(1973)

Thomas Inglis Robertson was a consultant physician in Sydney for forty years from 1952. At no point in all those years did he lose his passion for his calling. "My love affair with medicine began as soon as I started my course in 1940 and continued unabated throughout my whole working life...I left the active medical scene at the end of 1992, consumed by the same degree of clinical curiosity that came over me when I made my first excursion into the wards as a raw undergraduate." So he wrote in the introduction to his monograph Hippocrates on Macquarie, Sydney Hospital 1945-9, five years in the life of a resident doctor, published just after his death.

He was proud of his family's medical tradition. His son James Harmston graduated in medicine in 1990 from the University of New South Wales as the fifth generation. The line began with James Robertson (born in 1807), who took the FRCS Edinburgh. Robertson's father was a paediatrician who practiced in the northern New South Wales town of Lismore where Thomas and his brother, James Struan, were born.

Robertson was educated at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School and entered the Sydney University faculty to take the foreshortened wartime course in 1940. He became a junior resident medical officer at Sydney Hospital in 1945 and began a long and fruitful association. During his clinical pathology attachment he met his wife to be, Elizabeth Harmston, a scientist in the microbiology section.

He reveled in his clinical attachments and his encounters with the dominant honorary specialists of his time. He went to Melbourne to successfully sit the MRACP examinations in 1949, spent a period in obstetric medicine at Sydney's Crown Street, before traveling to the post-war hothouse of London medicine to take the MRCP in 1951. Here was born his interest in clinical haematology, a subject in which he excelled for the rest of his practicing life.

He had planned to enter rural practice as a physician on returning from England but fortuitously a temporary post became available at Sydney Hospital and soon he was permanently appointed honorary physician. His career burgeoned as his skills as clinician and teacher were recognized.

He made particularly important contributions to the RACP, recognized by his reward of the College medal in 1988. He was a member of the board of censors for eight years, served on and chaired the Asian-Pacific committee and was a member of the specialist advisory committees in general medicine and infectious disease. These activities were reflected in his influence as a teacher of medical students and mentor for trainee physicians. He was direct and demanding of high standards and would say "don't muck about, get on with it" when confronted by vacillation.

He was an active collaborator in clinical studies. He co-authored a landmark paper on aplastic anaemia and thymoma, as well as numerous studies in leukaemia and lymphoma. He was a committed participant at international haematology conferences and his opinion was considered essential at his departmental meetings.

He was particularly proud of his involvement as a board member of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and occasionally took one of his children on trips to the outback. He was a member of the prestigious national drug evaluation committee for 16 years and chaired the adverse drug reactions sub-committee. He was influential in the development of rational cancer treatment during this period and his impact was enhanced through his membership of the editorial board of the Prescriber Journal.

He retired from active practice in 1992 to indulge his love of reading, writing and fishing at his north coast retreat near his birthplace. He could not stop contributing however, as senior examiner for the Australian Medical Council, and on the medical board of the New South Wales medical tribunal and professional standards committee. He admitted being lukewarm about the latter post at the start, but eventually found it absorbing and discovered a talent for managing the difficult and traumatic encounters to his satisfaction.

Such was the man, forever unselfish, committed, scholarly and loved. He left his wife Betty, five children and many friends and admirers.

Peter Castaldi

(Volume XI, page 485)

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