Lives of the fellows

Thomas Steel

b.7 March 1912 d.13 December 2000
MB BS Melb(1935) MD(1938) MRACP(1940) MRCP(1947) FRACP(1953) FRCP(1968)

Tom Steel (‘Tammy’ to many friends) was born in Melbourne, a twin and eldest of six children to David and Marion Steel. His father was a tea importer, and his family were prominent early Melbourne citizens. He was educated at Scotch College and the University of Melbourne, graduating in medicine in 1935. He served as junior and senior RMO at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1936 and 1937, and moved to the Royal Children’s Hospital in 1938, the year he gained his MD degree. As a medical officer at the Austin Hospital in 1939 and 1940, he developed his interest in chest disease, in particular the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis.

In 1940 he joined the AAMC, and served in the 2/4 AGH in Australia and the Middle East. He specialised in the treatment of chemical warfare injuries. He survived a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea when on the way to Tobruk. On return he served in New Guinea, with the rank of major, until his discharge in 1946.

That year he was appointed honorary physician to outpatients at the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, one of a group of younger physicians who gave that hospital its post-war impetus. In 1947 he travelled to London on a Nuffield Fellowship for further postgraduate training, especially at the Brompton Hospital for Diseases of the Chest, and was admitted to membership of the Royal College of Physicians, London. He returned to private practice as a consultant physician, particularly in thoracic medicine, which was undergoing considerable change since the advent of antibiotic treatment for tuberculosis. In addition to his duties at the Alfred Hospital, he was appointed a consultant to the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg, and to Heatherton Sanatorium, which he continued to visit over many years. He was an active member of the Thoracic Society of Australia.

At the Alfred Hospital, in addition to teaching and patient care as an inpatient physician, he was appointed to the board of management in 1962, and as a vice-president in 1975, retiring in 1983. He continued his private practice over a number of years, and many patients were grateful for his careful and wise opinions, and for his devoted and willing service. His service to the College included membership of the Victorian State Committee, 1958-64.

In 1956 he was appointed director of the Melbourne Medical Postgraduate Committee. He enjoyed arranging courses in advanced medicine and surgery and in particular the visits of distinguished visitors from overseas, whom he was glad to entertain. He retired from this position in 1969, but continued in another medical role as Chief Medical Officer in Victoria of the AMP Society, where his sound, if conservative, advice was well valued until his retirement in 1985.

He married Dorothy Wellington, a university colleague, while on leave in 1942. They had three children, Elizabeth, Richard and Margaret, none of whom have followed their father into medicine, but rather into other branches of science, notably agriculture. Nevertheless he was a devoted family man, and enjoyed visits to other members around the country. His special relaxation was on the golf course, where he enjoyed many happy hours of friendly contest, and the occasional triumph. He was also a committed churchman, serving as an Elder of the Armadale Uniting Church over many years. In the last three years of his life he developed increasing problems with arteriosclerosis, giving up his golf reluctantly, and eventually entering a retirement home with his wife, from where he passed away peacefully in December 2000, in his 89th year.

As Dr.Steel he was a wise counsellor and beloved physician to his patients. As ‘Tammy’ he was a good friend to many, who felt the poorer for his passing, but enriched by his memory. He was a very worthy fellow of our College.

J M Gardiner

[Reproduced, with permission, from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ College Roll]

(Volume XII, page web)

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