Bernard Catchpole
General Surgeon
1923 - 2018

Perth's medical services include one of the world's most respected centres for ophthalmology, the treatment of the eye, and one of its mentors was Bernard Catchpole.

Included in his skills was a gift for persuasion. He played a key role in the recruitment of Ian Constable, a world authority in his field, and the launching of the Lions Eye Institute.

Professor Constable, who still operates at the institute, describes it as one of the leading centres of research in the World (it now has 200 professional staff). He describes Bernard Catchpole as "having a wonderful set of values" which were apparent in both his professional and his family life.

Medicine was a late starter in Perth's academic sphere. The first medical school was not opened until 1956, and before then, one had to go to another State to study medicine. There was no chair in ophthalmology in the new medical school. But the profession quickly established itself academically and Professor Catchpole played a leading role in this.

Bernard was born in London in 1923 and grew up in northern England. He completed his medical degree at University of Manchester.

After service with the Royal Army Medical Corps in the 1940s, he consolidated his surgical career in the 1950s in Manchester, Sheffield and the US and then, in 1960, in Adelaide where he met his wife to be, Philippa. Later they returned to Western Australia, where he was appointed the second Professor of Surgery at the recently opened medical school.

In those days, Perth's isolation was even more evident. There was a lack of facilities, funding and little research. This changed after Bernard arrived and the new initiatives he was part of included the Busselton Study, a permanent program which has attracted worldwide attention for the medical data it has amassed.

Bernard was a perfectionist, or certainly seemed so to the generations of medical students he taught. He introduced many innovations in his teaching programs, and imbued his enthusiasm for his profession in his students.

Among the topics in which he carried out original research were some with titles that hardly quicken the pulse - gut motility, peripheral embolism and intestinal colic.

His role in establishing the medical school involved a recruitment campaign that included Ian Constable, then working in a Boston institution. Constable had indicated that he was interested in returning to Australia and this was achieved in the face of some formidable obstacles, mainly associated with the cost of establishing the school's first chair in ophthalmology.

The financial obstacles were overcome and Professor Constable arrived in 1975. Bernard Catchpole continued to be a major contributor to the vigorous progress made by the medical school, with the launching of the Lions Eye Institute a major milestone.

As head of surgery he presided over the establishment of associate chairs in orthopaedics, vascular surgery, endocrine surgery and urology.

After a long and successful career in surgery and teaching, he retired in 1989, though the term may not exactly describe the following years. He continued to teach his special love, anatomy, to undergraduates well into his 80s, in a voluntary capacity.

Bernard retained a lively interest in his profession, and indeed, in the world. He contributed a regular quiz to the Medifacts journal to help students with their diagnostic skills. In the last week of his life he was discussing dispassionately his ailments with his Silver Chain medical team and offering them regular advice. (He was greatly impressed by their professionalism).

While they may not have known the Greek origins of as many medical terms as he might have wished for, the "young ones", as he called them, charmed him and gained his professional respect - no easy task.

His family recall that Bernard never lost his thirst for learning. In his professional life he was dedicated to his work and the house would be littered with medical journals. In retirement he had the time to expand his interests, hobbies and pursuits. Reflecting a more eclectic range of interests there were soon new piles of yet to be read magazines - New Scientist, The Economist and Solar Energy Australia.

He wrote a children's book, Charlie Arbon, about the life of an adventurous carbon atom. Bernard hoped to encourage the joy of reading in a younger generation too, helping with reading classes at the local high school.

The moral compass for Bernard's life was his simple and clear faith in God. Brought up a Methodist, he was an active church-goer all of his life. His faith sustained him through the tragedy of the disappearance of his son Andrew, and gave him comfort as he approached his own death.

He knew, too, that faith needed to be demonstrated through good works and he helped local refugees and many causes through his philanthropic efforts.

Bernard is survived by Philippa, son James, his wife Geraldine, and two grandchildren.

This obituary was kindly provided by John McIlwraith.