Lives of the fellows

Richard Alexander Joske

b.6 October 1925 d.3 November 2008
AM(2001) MB BS Melbourne(1948) MD(1952) FRACP(1962) PhD University of Western Australia(1972) MRCP(1977) FRCP(1982) MRACP

Richard Alexander (‘Dick’) Joske was professor of medicine at the University of Western Australia, Perth. He was born in Melbourne. His mother, Molly née Roberts, was the niece of the well-known Australian painter, Tom Roberts, who painted her portrait. His father, Esmond Shirley Joske, graduated in medicine from the University of Melbourne in 1916 and served as a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps during the First World War. His antecedent was Adolph Abraham Joske, a Jewish merchant from the German/Polish border who arrived in Sydney in 1861. Dick’s grandfather, Alexander Sydney Joske, graduated in medicine in 1885 with a thesis on typhoid, reporting 'better results for cases treated in tents than in the wards at the Alfred Hospital'.

Dick Joske went to Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, where he was awarded the Rosa Elizabeth Millear scholarship. On his way home from school he preferred taking a shortcut through the park so he could save the halfpenny tram fare, using the money to buy more lead soldiers for his collection. He studied medicine at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1948 with honours in chemistry, physics, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, microbiology and botany. Four years later, he was awarded an MD with gold medal.

At the Royal Melbourne Hospital, he met and courted a student nurse, Enid Jocelyn Prudence Apperly, known as ‘Prue’, whom he married in 1952. She later completed several degrees and co-wrote a history of Royal Perth Hospital. He was always deeply in love with Prue, whom he always referred to as 'my beloved'.

In his later career at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne, his mentors included Sir Macfarlane Burnet [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.68] and Sir Ian Wood [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.548]. He developed a major interest in gastroenterology. In 1955, he was awarded a Nuffield Dominion fellowship in medicine and spent a year at University College Hospital in London, working with Lord Max Rosenheim [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.394]. He was subsequently awarded a Commonwealth Fund (Harkness) advanced fellowship in medicine, which enabled him to work for a year at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Returning to Australia by sea, he stopped over in Perth and was offered and accepted the Adolph Basser fellowship in medicine at the University of Western Australia. Initially reader in experimental medicine, he succeeded the founding professor of medicine, Eric Saint [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.457], as head of the department of internal medicine in 1968.

His major working years were spent at Royal Perth Hospital, where he was recognised as a supreme clinician and teacher of internal medicine, at a time when specialties were already fragmenting from the wider base of medicine. He reluctantly transferred from Royal Perth Hospital, which he loved so much, to the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre, where he also served as dean of the faculty of medicine of the University of Western Australia. He was a member of the university senate and also member of the academic council, the Raine Medical Research Foundation committee and the Healy Medical Research Foundation committee.

He remained a physician without peer and was often referred the most difficult cases. He was once presented with a patient with a complex constellation of signs. In the course of a long presentation he said: 'check the urinalysis – if it’s 3+ protein, it is lupus, if it’s 1+, it is rheumatoid'. Of course he was right. His students sometimes found him intimidating, although they affectionately described Dick Joske as 'Disc-Jockey'.

Many were witness to his kindness and compassion at the bedside. He was a brilliant teacher, applying physiology and pathology to everyday medicine. He was legendary for his wit and humour, even though he was by his own admission a shy person and found it difficult to make small talk in company. At a time when Royal Perth Hospital supplied lunch for its staff, he was always stimulating company at the lunch table. He used to enjoy lighting up his narrow cigar after lunch, but gave up the habit of smoking in his later years.

He was widely published in national and international journals, served as an external examiner in medicine for the universities of Adelaide, Queensland, Malaysia and Singapore. As president of the Western Australian branch of the Australian Medical Association, he was a member of the federal council. He was made a fellow of the Australian Medical Association and received its inaugural award for services to medicine from the West Australian branch.

He retired in 1990 and decided to make a complete break from medicine. However, he served on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Disability Commission and the Autism Association.

Outside work, he was a great supporter of Claremont Australian Rules Football Club. He also closely followed cricket and was pleased on one of his visits to the UK to be introduced to Sir Kenneth Stuart, formerly professor of medicine at the University of the West Indies. As a consequence, Dick Joske was invited to attend a game in which the West Indies played against England. He was also an avid stamp collector.

His marriage to Prue was, in the words of his son, 'his greatest achievement'. He was devastated when she died in 1992, but he continued on in independence, enjoying occasional lunches with colleagues and friends for another 16 years.

He was attending a class reunion in Melbourne when he was taken ill in his hotel room. He was rushed to hospital, but was unable to be resuscitated. He is survived by four sons. One, David Joske, is a haematologist. A seminar room at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital has been named after R A Joske.

Krishna Somers

[Royal Perth Hospital www.rph.wa.gov.au/emeritus/joske.html]

(Volume XII, page web)

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