Donald Wallace Fleming

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General surgeon
2 January 1917-18 July 2010

Son of a pastoralist, Donald Wallace Fleming ("Don" or sometimes "Walt" to his friends) was born in Carnarvon 2 January 1917. He attended the local primary School in Carnarvon then Guildford Grammar School in Perth, completing his schooling in 1934.

In those days, to do medicine it was necessary to go interstate, so Don started his medical career in Victoria where he completed his MBBS at the University of Melbourne in 1940 winning the Jamieson prize for clinical medicine.

He returned to Perth and in 1941 became a JRMO then Surgical Registrar at Royal Perth Hospital.

He married Betty Cook (then a nurse at RPH) on 6 November 1943 at St Mary's Church in Colin St West Perth, over the road from where he would later have consulting rooms for 35 years.

He joined the AIF in 1943 and with 105 Light Field Ambulance was posted to what was Dutch New Guinea (Merauke) before being demobilized in 1944.

After returning to RPH he was Assistant (and on occasion Acting) Superintendant from July 1945 to March 1947. It this position he "at all times displayed the utmost conscientiousness and devotion to his duty, with the capacity to meet any situation as it arose. He has enjoyed the confidence and respect of his professional colleagues both of the honorary and paid staffs." The sentiments expressed in this reference echo through the rest of his career.

He trained at the Robert Jones Orthopaedic Hospital Oswestry in Wales and Royal Masonic and All Saints Hospital in London between 1947 and 1949. During this period he worked with many eminent surgeons including Sir Reginald Watson and Terence Millin. These were very famous surgeons at the time. He obtained his FRCS(Eng) in 1948.

In 1950 he returned to the Royal Perth Hospital and was appointed to the surgical staff, serving there for the next 32 years as surgeon, senior surgeon and as board member from 1969 to 1981. He was also Chairman of the Department of General Surgery for a term of three years.

He also joined the staff at Princes Margaret Hospital from 1951 to 1960 and served on the hospital board. Then Saint John of God Hospital Subiaco, again serving on the hospital board for many years.

Don had a great sense of humour and was popular with both his patients and staff. However, he demanded very high standards and was quick to respond if he perceived any laxity!

In 1965 he re-established his links with the Army becoming a Lieutenant Colonel and consultant surgeon to the Western Command. He worked at the Repatriation General Hospital until his retirement in 1982. After retiring from surgery he continued doing medical work at the Army for another 5 years.

Don made a major contribution to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons including serving as Council member from 1969 for 12 years.

During this hectic period of his life he still found time to be the Honorary Medical Officer for the West Perth Football Club in the WAFL for 23 years and was made a Life Member on his retirement. He was a passionate supporter of West Perth and equally of Carlton in the (then) VFL.

Through his long and productive career Don contributed to this training and development of generations of students and graduate doctors, the success of a number of major institutions and of course the health of thousands of grateful patients.

Don was an extremely accomplished surgeon. I first met Don briefly in 1957 when I arrived to work at the RPH from the Royal Hobart Hospital, but our friendship really began when I returned from England in 1960, joining the RPH Surgical unit in 1964. The senior surgeons were Don Fleming, Neville Way and Philip Goatcher. When I commenced private practice in 1964 Don was extremely generous and let me use his rooms West Perth until I became established.

Don will never be forgotten. He shares the surgical history of contemporary surgery in WA, and especially at the Royal Perth Hospital, with other eminent surgeons of his time including Jim Ainsley, Albert Gild, Norman Robinson, Bertram Nairn, Hector Stewart, Philip Goatcher and Neville Way.

After his retirement Don became an enthusiastic grower of cymbidium orchids. When they eventually moved to Dalkeith, the orchid house filled the entire back yard.

Becoming increasing frail, Don moved into a hostel in 2008 and died there on 18 July 2010.

He leaves behind Betty, his wife of 67 years, a son and a daughter, 5 grand children and 3 great grand children.

From a eulogy presented by Marx Wald FRACS; edited by James Fleming


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