Lives of the fellows

Anthony Graham Fisher

b.22 October 1923 d.15 April 2007
MB BS Adelaide MD Melb FRACP FRCP(1976)

Anthony Fisher MB BS (Adel), MD (Melb), FRACP, FRCP (Lond) died on 15 April 2007 at the age of 83 years, after a prolonged illness. He was one of the pioneers of clinical neurology in Western Australia and one of the earliest members of the Australian Association of Neurologists. He was a skilled neurologist trained in the traditional mould whose career spanned some 30 years, both before and after the advent of modern neuroimaging techniques. He practised his discipline with great commitment and flair with meticulous attention to the basics of history taking and the neurological examination which he was happy to impart to his residents and registrars. I was privileged to be taught by him when I was his resident at Royal Perth Hospital in the mid-1960s, and to later become his colleague and friend.

Tony was born and raised in Adelaide where he was educated at St Peter’s College and graduated in medicine from Adelaide University in 1946. He completed his internship at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and subsequently in Hobart, and in 1948 moved to Melbourne where he was appointed Neurology Registrar to Dr Leonard Cox at the Alfred Hospital. In 1954 he obtained his MD degree from Melbourne University and became a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. From 1954 to 1957 he furthered his neurological training in London, initially as a registrar at the West End Hospital and later at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, where he worked under Dr C S Hallpike, the pioneer of neuro-otology. On returning from London he was appointed Assistant Honorary Neurologist at the Royal Perth Hospital in 1958 during the era when hospital consultancy posts were unremunerated and had to be combined with a busy private practice. He held this position until 1960 when, following the retirement of Dr Ernest Beech, he became Senior Honorary Neurologist. For many years he was also Visiting Neurologist to the Fremantle Hospital, a service which he willingly provided in an honorary capacity. In 1971 he moved to the Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital where his influence was invaluable in establishing the Department of Neurology as an independent discipline from general medicine. He remained a member of the Department until his retirement in 1988 and was Head of Department from 1977 to 1983. Following his retirement he continued to serve the Department as honorary archivist up until the last two years of his life when his health started to fail. During this period he could always be relied upon to find an original publication about a neurological condition, a clinical sign or some aspect of neuroanatomy or neuro-otology, often in the French or German literature, before a Grand Round and, if necessary, translate it.

Tony made several important contributions to neurology in Western Australia during his career. The first of these was in the early 1960s when, with his neurosurgical colleague Mr Ross Robinson, he pioneered the use of stereotactic surgery for the treatment of Parkinsonian tremor in Perth. This was in the pre-levodopa era and before the luxury of modern day neuroimaging techniques, and was the forerunner of deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders in the current era. The second was in the 1980s when Tony’s longstanding interest in neuro-otology and the neurology of eye movements was rekindled and, following short periods of sabbatical leave when he worked with Dr Michael Gresty and Dr Adolfo Bronstein in London and with Dr David Zee in Baltimore, he established a state-of-the-art laboratory for vestibular, balance and eye movement testing at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. This was one of the first of its kind in Australia and is still fully operational. Tony’s attraction to this difficult area of neurology no doubt dated from his early exposure to Hallpike at Queen Square in the late 1950s. His colleagues were always happy to refer patients with unsolved dizziness, balance or eye movement problems to Tony in the knowledge that they would be dealt with meticulously and that he would always get to the bottom of the problem. Tony’s contributions to vestibular neurology were subsequently recognised when he was elected to the prestigious international Barany Society in the early 1990s, an achievement of which he was very proud.

Tony enjoyed teaching and was particularly in his element when imparting his skills in neurological examination and assessment to his residents, registrars and students. One of his most enduring contributions to neurological education in Western Australia was the establishment of the weekly interhospital Grand Rounds in the early 1970s in which he was a major driving force. The Grand Rounds have continued up until the present day, rotating between five different hospitals, and are an important educational and postgraduate training event. Tony made sure that the Grand Rounds survived and, year after year, even after his retirement, he would draw up the annual timetable well in advance and make sure that each of the hospitals had their fair share of rounds throughout the year. This epitomised the doggedness and unfailing attention to detail that characterised his whole career and all of his endeavours.

On a more personal side, Tony was dedicated to his wife, Mary, herself a medical graduate, over a period of 40 years, to his children Helen and Charles, and in later years to his three grandchildren. He enjoyed classical music and literature as well as good food and fine wines and could always be relied upon to provide a sound opinion about a particular vintage. He and Mary were excellent hosts and trainees recently returned from overseas were always made welcome to their home in Mosman Park or at the Club.

Anthony Fisher has left an important legacy for the practice of neurology in this country [Australia]. Through his example and teaching he has influenced the development of subsequent generations of neurologists, including myself, for which he will always be remembered with gratitude, warmth and sadness that he is no longer with us.

F L Mastaglia

[Reproduced, with permission, from the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience .v.15, no.3, Mar 2008, p.331-2]

(Volume XII, page web)

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