Lives of the fellows

Richard Roderick Andrew

b.26 February 1911 d.12 February 1994
AO(1976) MB BS Melb(1935) MD(1940) MRCP(1946) MRACP(1958) FRCP(1959) FRACP(1963) Hon MD Monash(1976)

Rod Andrew came from an Australian background which was privileged and establishment. His father was a successful ear, nose and throat surgeon and a keen yachtsman, whom Rod greatly admired but who died of coronary disease when only 45 years old. Rod was born in Perth, Western Australia, and educated at Geelong Grammar School, where one of his classmates was Russell Drysdale, who was to become one of Australia’s foremost artists. Their acquaintanceship was to blossom into a close friendship in later life. Rod coxed the senior rowing eight and entered Melbourne University to study medicine in 1929. There he met Sydney Sunderland, later to become dean of the faculty of medicine at the University after a distinguished career as a neuroanatomist. Even as a student Sunderland had a charismatic effect on many of his contemporaries, helping them with their studies and acting in many ways as a tutor. None was more impressed or grateful than Rod who always felt in debt to, and perhaps a little in awe of, his close friend. After graduation he spent two years in residency at the Melbourne Hospital and then a year at the Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. In 1939 he became clinical superintendent to Princess Margaret’s Hospital in Perth. In September, with the advent of war, he joined the Army and saw service in the Middle East and New Guinea, where he was mentioned in despatches. He spent a year as commanding officer in the Medical Research Unit in Cairns, under the direction of Neil Hamilton Fairley, later Sir Neil [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.171], where the protocol for the use of atabrine as a malarial prophylaxis was developed with consequent benefit to allied troops. He had already developed an interest in gastroenterology and he investigated and treated many of the dysentery outbreaks, another major problem for the troops in New Guinea.

After discharge from the Army in 1945, he gained a Nuffield travelling fellowship and came to Britain, completing his training in gastroenterology at the Central Middlesex Hospital with Sir Francis Avery Jones, for whom he had great admiration. On his return to Australia in 1947 he was appointed as a physician to out-patients at the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, and entered private practice as a general physician with an interest in gastroenterolgy. He became an in-patient physician and sub-dean of the Alfred Hospital Clinical School in 1957, and dean a year later. In 1958 Monash University was established by an Act of the Victoria Parliament and the interim council of the University first met in June, with Rod as one of two medical representatives. The new Monash Medical School was established in 1960 and Rod Andrew was appointed foundation dean. What inner ambitions drove him to abandon his private practice and his Alfred Hospital appointment, with the guaranteed privileges, relative comfort and security which financially and socially such a position ensured, warrants examination. In retrospect, I believe it was his deep commitment to teaching, and the establishment of a medical course and curriculum which might help to correct the social injustices he perceived in his own community. These were first revealed to him when he encountered the suffering of the working class during the Great Depression and was seen by him for the first time, as a medical student, among the sick poor attending the Melbourne Hospital. He was equally appalled by the Australian Government’s lack of concern for the poor and their passive support of the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. He personally packed clothing parcels to send to the homeless and to Republican supporters in Spain. These socialist leanings were reinforced when he worked in England and observed the improvements in health care delivery to the underprivileged in the UK following the introduction of the NHS. His views produced a mixture of surprise, anger - and even fear - among many of his conservative medical colleagues and he was dubbed ‘the red dean’, a title he rather enjoyed. It was not until Australia’s political crisis in 1975 which followed the dismissal of the Whitlam Government that he became a card carrying member of the Australian Labour Party, a membership he retained until he died.

He would express his concern about his modest background in academic medicine but he was always decisive on issues once he had made up his mind. This was usually after consultation with colleagues whose opinions he respected and trusted - Sydney Sunderland, later Sir Sydney, and Joe Bornstein being his usual choice. It resulted in his assembling a first rate faculty whom he supported with the utmost loyalty; a loyalty which was not always returned. The latter was only to be expected considering the hard-thrusting, individualistic approach of many of the appointees, but there is little doubt that he gathered a most talented and feisty group whose outspoken views were expressed articulately and forcefully in colourful language, perhaps reflecting some of their experiences in the armed forces. Rod controlled these meetings with a mixture of brute force and tact - the latter often unrecognized. He blended the disparate personalities into a team which earned an enviable reputation both in Australia and abroad.

He was ahead of others in recognizing Australia’s geographical position and its potential as an educational resource for Asia. He encouraged a high enrolment of undergraduates from Malaysia and Singapore, hoping that this might improve and expand social, medical and political links and understanding between the still parochial, and largely isolationist, communities of Australia and its neighbours. He established a chair of social and preventive medicine at Monash in 1968, before more orthodox disciplines such as psychiatry, in 1971, and pharmacology, in 1986, which reflected his commitment to social issues. As would be expected, he was opposed to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. He was a friend and ally of Senator Fulbright whose views were similar to his own. He was director of the Australian-American Education Foundation in 1964 and served as its chairman from 1970 to 1976.

When he retired as dean he became director of postgraduate medical education at the St Francis Cabrini Hospital, where he developed a programme for attending physicians and surgeons, as well as experimenting with the allocation of medical students to the private sector, an area previously denied to them. After his retirement from Monash his other major activity was as a board member of the Baker Research Institute, to which he had been appointed a life member in 1960. As well as his work on the board of the Institute, he formed an alumni association and also edited a quarterly newsletter which he dubbed BIN (Baker Institute News). The major interest it provided for those outside the Institute lay in his nostalgic and colourful recollections of Australian medical personalities intermingled with his own witty assessments of their worth. His book reviews, which covered a broad range of literature, medical and otherwise, were always presented in an arresting but casual style. His continued interest in Monash was largely in the area of the visual arts, a discipline which always had a special attraction for him, partly due to his lifelong friendship with Russell Drysdale. He was himself an enthusiastic and prolific amateur painter from his early years and continued to be so until the end of his life. The family Christmas cards were an example of his work.

He was supported throughout by his wife Joan. She was a charming and lively hostess at their many informal dinners. Although inwardly devastated by the death of their only child, Ros, he carried out his day to day tasks without emotion but with considerable effort. He was an unselfish man whose concern for people could be illustrated in many ways. But none more so than the help he gave to the former vice-chancellor of Monash, Louis Matheson, whom he regularly visited and took on sundry expeditions after Matheson had had a stroke which left him aphasic. This continued even after Rod’s own health was deteriorating.

A man with a keen sense of humour, Rod Andrew would doubtless have enjoyed the efforts of future biographers trying to explain the paths he took in defiance of an establishment of which he was himself a favoured member. Not many people have been card carrying members of the Australian Labour Party and also enjoyed membership of the Melbourne Club.

Barry G Firkin

(Volume X, page 6)

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