Robert Gordon Dykes FRCSENG FRACS
Orthopaedic Surgeon
12 November 1925 –18 February 2020

Two references written in1956 for the young Robert Dykes, after he had worked for a year as a Surgical Registrar at Tilbury hospital in London, aptly described him.  Mr W. H. Hamer, Consultant Surgeon, wrote - “Mr Dykes...has without any question been the best Registrar we have ever had.”  The other, by Mr Alan Small, a Harley Street London surgeon stated: “… a quiet unassuming young man of very pleasant personality … It would not be possible for me to speak too highly of Dykes, who, in a short time after his appointment, was regarded with affection and respect by everyone in the hospital. Both in character and judgement he was completely to be relied upon, and we were all more than sorry when his year came to an end.”  These appropriately described Bob, who retained these characteristics alongside kindness, empathy and a keen sense of humour throughout his life, during which he set up an orthopaedic service for Southland.

Born in Nelson in 1925 to James Gordon Dykes, bank manager, and Adelaide Platt, homemaker, Robert (widely known as Bob throughout his life) was the second of four boys in the family, with brothers Harold, Peter (who also followed a medical career) and John.  Bob was a young boy when the family moved to Dunedin, where he attended Musselburgh Primary School and subsequently Otago Boys High School.  At high school he achieved well academically, and played cricket, captaining the 2nd eleven, and rugby.  Holidays were spent at Taieri Mouth, and when older working on a farm at Saddle Hill.  Loving this he wanted to be a farmer, but his father said this was not a good time to go into it, suggesting a medical career would be more secure financially!

Bob commenced at Otago University in 1943 gaining entry to Medical School the following year.  Living at home he daily cycled the four kilometres across the city to and from Medical School.  With a good level of fitness, he was a keen harrier during this period.  Despite not being a trained musician, he enjoyed being a member of the Capping Band for a couple of years and he graduated in 1948.  He then worked as a house surgeon in Dunedin where he spent time with Professor Norman Nesbit, an influential orthopaedic leader at that time.

In 1953 Bob travelled to England to pursue a career in surgery. His arrival in London coincided with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and, living initially at New Zealand House, he obtained tickets to stand right opposite the door entering Westminster Abbey. Besides an obviously successful year at Tilbury Hospital during which he gained his FRCS, Bob secured orthopaedic positions at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London and at Oswestry.  In 1956, through family connections, he met Olwyn Fraser, a New Zealand artist living in London and they married six months later.

Bob returned to New Zealand with Olwyn in 1958 to take up an appointment at Kew Hospital in Invercargill, becoming the first locally resident orthopaedic surgeon.  This was a half-time appointment, with the balance given to private practice. The birth of Susan in 1959 and Campbell in 1963 completed the family, who remember weekends, nights and even holidays being often interrupted as Bob headed back to the hospital to provide a thinly staffed acute service.  He remained the sole local orthopaedic surgeon for 10 years until joined by Paul Wilson in 1968.  He also became FRACS at this time.  The appointment of Murray Fosbender in 1981 finally created a service offering a one-in-three roster.  In his time in Southland he established the Orthopaedic Department and gave it momentum to develop. Bob served on the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association Executive, the Education Committee (seven years), the Manpower Subcommittee and as Vice-President of the Association 1983-1986. He retired from hospital service in 1991. 

In the community Bob served as President of the Crippled Children’s Society and President of the Southland branch of the New Zealand Medical association. His Christian faith was very important to him throughout his life and he served as an Elder at the First Presbyterian Church and as an Elder and Session Clerk of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church.  Bob was also a member of the Council of the Presbyterian Support Services Southland.

With a life-long love of the outdoors, Bob took the family on many trips into the mountains and forests, sharing his considerable knowledge of plant names and habitats. Family holidays were often spent in Queenstown and Stewart Island.  Participation in golf and regular dinner parties with friends and family provided the opportunity to unwind and relax.

Always curious about the world around him, in retirement Bob devoted enthusiasm and increasing time to geology, flora and fauna.  He spent two years studying and successfully completing examinations in geology and with the associated field trips throughout Otago and Southland the time spent in the outdoors was a highlight.  Wood carving, pottery, gardening, including award-winning Chrysanthemums, and golf were all important activities.  He became a respected judge of Chrysanthemums and was still actively judging at flower shows at age 90 years.   During 2010 Bob and Olwyn moved to Alexandra to live.

Bob Dykes a thoughtful, kind, caring, supportive, and wise father, friend and colleague is survived by his wife of 64 years, Olwyn, children, Sue, a Clinical Psychologist, and Cam, a Chartered Accountant and five grandchildren.


This obituary is based upon a short one prepared by the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association and developed further by Bob’s daughter, Sue.