Lives of the fellows

Bruce Austin Frith

b.27 July 1924 d.16 January 2006
MB BS Sydney(1946) MRCP(1955) MRACP(1968) FRACP(1973) FRCP(1983)

Bruce Frith was one of the first consultant physicians in rural New South Wales. He was born to Blanch Isobel and Benjamin Noble Frith, the second of three children. The family lived in Lismore, northern New South Wales, where his father owned a local grocery store. Bruce completed his schooling in Lismore and achieved academically, but was also known for his strengths in swimming, sculling and surf-lifesaving. He completed his secondary education at the age of 16 and began to study medicine at Sydney University in 1940. Studying during the war meant students did an expedited course, completing six years work in five. There were few holidays. Bruce graduated in 1946 with his MB BS and second class honours.

In 1946 Bruce became a junior RMO at Sydney Hospital and in the subsequent year he became RMO at Bundaberg Hospital, Queensland. It was there that he met and married his beautiful bride Annie Louise née Blenkinsop.

Bruce became a full-time lecturer in neuroanatomy at the Queensland University Medical School in 1948. He then returned to the area where he grew up and became a general practitioner in Mullumbimby. This was an interesting but challenging time for him as one of only two general practitioners in the area. There are legions of stories from those days, including a polio epidemic and a local outbreak of diphtheria, where Bruce turned his hand to public health and traced the source of the infection to a young woman working in the train station cafe at Byron Bay. Bruce was known to cross flooded creeks on horseback to provide care for patients with myocardial infarction or for confinements.

Due to the amazing wealth of pathology that he saw in Mullumbimby he became inspired to do further study. In 1955 he and his family travelled to England, where he sat for and passed the membership examinations of the London and Edinburgh Colleges, specialising in neurology.

On his return to Australia he was offered positions at both the Royal Brisbane and South Brisbane hospitals to establish departments of neurology, but despite these attractive offers Bruce wanted to returned to his home town of Lismore and there became a consultant neurologist and physician. He was appointed senior physician at the Lismore Base Hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital in 1955, positions he held until his retirement for medical reasons in 1986. He served on the board of directors of St Vincent’s Hospital from 1976 to 1980.

Recognising the importance of continuing education, Bruce travelled to London’s Heart Hospital in 1965 for further training in cardiology. Upon his return in 1966 he became the senior physician at the chest clinic at the Lismore Base Hospital, monitoring tuberculosis in addition to his other clinical duties. He travelled again in 1972, this time attending the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, as well as the London’s Heart Hospital to update in cardiology. In 1973 he became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Bruce made a serious commitment to educating medical and nursing staff. He particularly enjoyed being a mentor to the medical registrars at Lismore Base Hospital when it became a teaching hospital with secondment of students from Royal North Shore Hospital and the Sydney University Medical School.

From graduation Bruce was an active member of the Australian Medical Association. He recognised the need to support country medical practitioners and consequently was a longstanding member of the North-East Medical Association of the Australian Medical Association and during this time facilitated many teaching sessions, including a large conference in 1965 for which he was the organising secretary. He was president of the North-East Medical Association from 1966 to 1967.

Unfortunately ill-health necessitated Bruce's retirement from clinical practice in 1986. He moved to Sydney and when he regained his health returned to work as a consultant physician at Delmar Hospital and as a cardiologist reporting ECGs for a large pathology group. He then continued in a medico-legal practice until final retirement in 1997, when he experienced further ill-health.

Bruce’s great love of medicine never waned. He had a thirst for knowledge and arranged overseas sojourns, as well as extensively reviewed the medical journals to keep up-to-date. During his 50 years of clinical practice he witnessed great changes in medicine and fulfilled his desire to provide the services of a physician to his home town. The most outstanding qualities pervading both Bruce's clinical practice and his personal life were his empathy, ability to communicate and, even more importantly, his rare gift of being able to listen.

In the little spare time he had he enjoyed a game of golf tennis and particularly fishing. He was also a long-standing member of Rotary, and was president of the Lismore branch from 1965 to 1966. Throughout his busy life Bruce always made time to be with his family as they were a great source of joy for him. Bruce was predeceased by his son Mark and grandson Luke, and is survived by his wife Annie, his daughter Jane, who has carried on the family tradition as a neurologist, his son-in-law Brian, grandchildren Rebecca and Matthew and step-grandchildren Kirsten and Tim.

Jane Frith

(Volume XII, page web)

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