Lives of the fellows

Stanley Bryan Furnass

b.16 September 1927 d.4 March 2017
AM(1994) BA Oxon BM BCh(1951) MRCP DM(1978) FRCP(1979) FRACP

Stanley Bryan Furnass, known as Bryan, was the foundation director of the Australian National University’s student health service in Canberra. He was born in Manchester and educated at Manchester Grammar School. His parents were teachers and his father, Stanley, ran the junior school for deaf children in Manchester. During the Second World War, they were evacuated to an old manor house in Cheshire, where Bryan enjoyed digging for victory in the beautiful walled garden. He won a prize for his efforts of which he was very proud. Bryan had a younger sister – Coral.

In 1945 Bryan was offered a scholarship to study medicine at Oxford and a place at Merton College. He was able to defer his National Service in order to take up this opportunity as medicine was a reserved occupation. The Oxford tradition at that time restricted lectures and labs mainly to the mornings, the afternoons being set aside for sporting activities. Bryan chose swimming and rowing as the two sporting activities he enjoyed most. He liked to recall cycling to his lectures and being overtaken by Roger Bannister loping along the footpath beside him as he trained for his record breaking sub four-minute mile.

Following the pre-clinical medical course in Oxford, Bryan completed his medical degree at Middlesex Hospital in London. On completion of his degree, he was appointed as a house physician in general medicine, cardiology and later neurology at Middlesex Hospital. It was in this latter position that he met his future wife, Anne (née Levett), who was completing her nursing training on the same ward.

In 1953 Bryan was drafted into National Service for two years with the Royal Army Medical Corps and, after an initial period of training, he was posted to an Army training centre in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Here he learnt something of the culture of West Africa and gained experience in the preventative and management aspects of tropical medicine, particularly malaria and bowel infestations.

On completing his National Service in 1955, Bryan was appointed as a house physician to the London Chest Hospital and then as a thoracic medical registrar to the West Sussex group of hospitals. In September 1955, he married Anne and they set up their first home together on the south coast of England. It soon became important for Bryan to decide whether he was going to pursue a career in general practice or to aim for a career in specialist medicine. To follow the latter path, he would need to pass his membership examination of the Royal College of Physicians. This he did and in 1957 he gained a position as a medical registrar and later as a research assistant on the professorial medical unit at Middlesex Hospital.

The professor of medicine on this unit was conducting research into the physiological and biochemical aspects of obesity and Bryan was invited to participate. This he did for the two years of his appointment and for the next 20 years he worked on completing a thesis for a doctorate of medicine.

In 1959 Bryan was offered a position as consultant physician in a practice in Goulburn, New South Wales, following a chance meeting with a senior general practitioner from the practice. There was a long and very competitive queue for senior registrar and consultant physician appointments in Britain at the time and London did not seem like a good place to bring up a family. They now had twin daughters and another on the way to consider. It was not an easy decision to make, but they were still young enough to take it on in a spirit of adventure and optimism.

Goulburn was a three-hour drive from Sydney and was famous for its production of top quality merino wool. It was situated on the tablelands of New South Wales and was surrounded by farmland. It also had the advantage of being only 70 minutes drive from Canberra, the capital of Australia. With a population of about 60,000 at the time and many of the advantages of a national capital, it naturally became a place of interest.

Following a year in Goulburn, during which time Bryan and the family experienced an Australian country lifestyle and made many friends, the decision was made to move to Canberra, thus giving up the security of a salary. On April Fool’s Day 1961, the family made the move and Bryan put up his plate as a general physician. Life was precarious for the first year but gradually things improved and after five years Bryan was making a reasonable living. During this time, he chaired the Canberra Medical Society for several years and was invited to lecture the nurses at the Canberra Hospital where he was a visiting medical officer.

However, he still felt drawn to academia and when the Australian National University established a health centre for students Bryan decided to apply for the position of director. The emphasis was to be on encouraging young adults to live in a healthy way and to recognise the important effect this would have on their academic progress. Bryan would be on a professorial salary and would be entitled to sabbatical leave every five years, thus giving the family the opportunity to visit family and friends in England. This proved to be a good move and Bryan remained in the position for the next 24 years.

During this time, Bryan took a special interest in occupational health and safety at the university, including the provision of traveller’s clinics for staff and students. He co-authored a booklet on health in the tropics. He initiated a wellness resource centre on the campus with fitness testing facilities and conducted a survey of student health. He was known for his reluctance to administer antibiotics and for advising ailing students to take a run round the oval, advice which was not always popular, but often proved effective. He was a member of the Australian and New Zealand Student Health Association and chaired it for several years.

Bryan served as a member of the university council for two years, representing the general staff. After his retirement, in 1994, he was appointed as a member of the Order of Australia for ‘service to health education and promotion’.

In retirement, Bryan turned his attention to the health of the planet, believing this to be the most important requirement for the future of health of humankind. He was an active member of Doctors for the Environment Australia and of the strategic council of the Climate Institute.

Bryan was survived by his wife, Anne, their five children, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild. He had many friends and had a great sense of humour.

Anne Furnass

[BMJ 2017 357 2889 – accessed 21 December 2017; The Guardian 18 December 2012 – accessed 21 December 2017; The Australian National University Emeritus Faculty Member – accessed 21 December 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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