Brian Leslie Cornish AM, RFD, ED, MBBS(Adel), FRCS(Edin), FRCS, FRACS, FA(Orth)A
30 December 1924 - 28 July 2017
A stroke ended Brian Cornish's long life of service and achievement on Friday 28 July 2017. He died peacefully aged 92, surrounded by his 4 children and their spouses. Betty, his wife of fifty-nine years, preceded him in 2009. His end came at Royal Adelaide Hospital where he started work as a junior doctor in 1947 and spent a professional life of surgery, teaching and service to the community, retiring as emeritus consultant orthopaedic surgeon in 2000.
He was born in the small town of Blyth in the Clare Valley, South Australia and brought up on a cereal farming block at nearby Kybunga. Primary schooling was in Kybunga with one teacher and 28 pupils. In 1936 the family moved to a grazing property about 11km from Coleraine, Victoria. Brian, with a bursary, completed high school as a weekday border at the Presbyterian College in Hamilton, 35km from the family property. With support from a maternal uncle in 1942, he enrolled in Medicine at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 1947.
He represented the University in hockey, and at an intervarsity competition in Hobart he met a nurse, Betty Cheek. In 5th year he somehow achieved a student attachment at the Royal Hobart Hospital, renewing his acquaintance with Betty. The two interests combined again in his first year after graduation when he represented SA in the national hockey championships in Tasmania.
Brian's junior year at RAH was followed by a year of Army service in the Occupation Force in Japan, ending as temporary Major. There followed 6 months at the Adelaide Children's Hospital and, in December 1950, marriage to Betty Cheek and a move to Victoria where Brian worked for a year as a medical officer on the Kiewa Hydroelectric Scheme.
The next 3 years saw Brian and Betty in Adelaide, Brian as a surgical registrar at RAH. He was particularly influenced in trauma management by prominent surgeon and anatomist, Russel Barbour (whom he referred to as "my pin-up boy") with his maxim of - "Put the bones straight boy!". In 1955 they travelled to the UK where he quickly passed the Fellowship examinations of Royal Colleges of Surgeons of Edinburgh and of England before working for a year in Walthamstow, London.
Returning to Australia, Brian took a position as a GP/General Surgeon, back in Hamilton during which he gained Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and periodically visited Barbour at RAH. In 1959, with 4 children, they settled in Adelaide. Brian was now an orthopaedic surgeon, with an honorary appointment at RAH, consulting in Barbour's rooms. His skills as a surgeon and negotiator in 1961 helped Barbour establish the SA Spinal Injuries Unit which he subsequently led for 20 years. Acute and rehabilitation management came under orthopaedic care. The paralysed were helped integrate into the community with his founding and leadership of the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of SA. For the next 23 years he was active in teaching students and training future orthopaedic surgeons at RAH and on three trips to Fiji as part of the RACS Fiji Orthopaedic Training Programme (FOTP).
He published on spinal injuries and joint replacements. Of particular interest: Traumatic Spondylolisthesis of the Axis: B.L.Cornish, Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery Vol.50B, No.1, Feb.1968, and The Viability of the Femoral Head Following Resurfacing Hip Arthroplasty in Humans: Howie DW, Cornish BL, Vernon-Roberts B. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1993;291:171-184.
He combined a busy surgical practice with extensive community and professional involvement on Boards, including as chair: Bedford Industries, SA Branch of Australian Medical Association (President), Australian Orthopaedic Association (Vice President), Medical Defence Association (Chair), National Committee on Spinal Injuries (Chair), Mutual Community Health Fund, St. Andrews and Wakefield Memorial Hospitals, SA Statutory Boards of Physiotherapy and of Medicine.
During the Vietnam War Brian's sense of duty saw him serve twice for 3 months with a civilian surgical team in Bien Hoa (1967) and as Lieutenant Colonel and Senior Surgeon of the First Australian Field Hospital in Vung Tau (1968-69). His Army service from 1958 to 1984 was recognised with the Reserve Forces and Efficiency Decorations. His military experience led him to streamline management of civilian casualties in Adelaide by negotiating for, establishing, then directing the Emergency Surgical Service at RAH (1975-77) where he championed delayed primary closure of traumatic wounds and initial high dose penicillin.
By 1984 he had been instrumental in amalgamating the orthopaedic surgery units at RAH into a department and encouraging the vision of orthopaedic research and academia as Chairman of the Adelaide Bone and Joint Reseach Foundation. He was then a valued honorary emeritus consultant at RAH, until 2000. In 1989 the Australian Orthopaedic Association presented him with its highest award - The LO Betts Medal "for exceptional contributions to orthopaedics". Five weeks before his death he attended the RAH Orthopaedic Consultants' Dinner.
The land was always in his heart. In 1972 he purchased a grazing property in the Coonawarra, South Australia,which he developed further with an extensive tree plantation. He soon adopted leadership roles - Chairman of the Australian Forest Growers SA Chapter and member of its National Board; and was awarded National Tree Farmer of the Year on 1998.
Brian Cornish's service was recognised in 1993 receiving an Order of Australia Medal, and in 2013 he was made a Member in the Order of Australia - AM, for service to medicine as an orthopaedic surgeon, to forestry and conservation, and to the community.
He was always physically active and adventurous, attempting golf at RAGC, sailboarding or yachting on the Murray, crewing on Anaconda in 5 Sydney-Hobart races; and curious - studying archeological artifacts at the SA Museum.
Brian leaves behind him a history of care and service, skills and achievement, and a lasting influence on all who knew him - patients, family, friends and colleagues, perhaps especially those juniors he nurtured and patiently mentored.
This obituary was kindly provided by Associate Prof. Robert Bauze.