Bruce Neil Procter Benjamin
December 1931 - August 2018
Surgeon developed early techniques for laryngoscopy
10 August 2018
Bruce Benjamin who has died aged 86, was an otolaryngologist and leader in the field of ear nose and throat, head and neck surgery. He devoted himself to the development and refinement of techniques for study of the airway in infants and children and made extensive teaching contributions in his field of expertise.
Bruce Neil Procter Benjamin was born in Wagga on 20 December 1931, son to Neil and Lena (Neely) Benjamin, and brother to Clifford. After schooling in Wagga, with a move to Sydney, he attended Sydney Grammar School from 1946 to 1949.
He won a scholarship to attend Sydney University from 1950 to 1953 where he studied medicine, staying at St Paul's College which he represented in athletics, cricket, tennis, billiards and golf.
In 1956 he gained his qualifications with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery and in 1961 a diploma of laryngo-otology from Sydney University.
He accepted a partnership in an ENT practice in Macquarie Street, Sydney, which continued until his retirement. In due course he would have hospital appointments as ear nose and throat, head and neck surgeon at Sydney Hospital, Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Royal North Shore Hospital and five other major hospitals.
Benjamin was the first in Australia to use the carbon dioxide laser in the airways of both adults and children, and in head and neck cancer surgery. He designed numerous instruments for laryngoscopy, including the innovative Benjamin jet tube, an anaesthetic tube for adult micro-laryngoscopy.
He improved the photographic documentation of the pharynx, larynx, tracheobronchial tree and oesophagus in health and disease, in adults, children, and infants. His slides and photographs have been utilised extensively in teaching. He wrote or edited six major reference books and atlases, and was on the editorial board and a consultant reviewer of nine medical journals.
Benjamin served on committees with the Sydney Hospitallers, the Shepherd Centre, and for 12 years with the Royal Flying Doctor Service for which he did honorary work in outback New South Wales. One occasion involved a mercy flight from Broken Hill to Sydney in the Beagle aircraft of the Royal Flying Doctor Service where he accompanied a baby who had breathing difficulties.
He was Chairman of the Otolaryngological Society of NSW and in 1983 started a Fellowship in paediatric and adult laryngo-broncho-oesophagology, a hands-on training position for Fellows to become familiar with the techniques of endoscopy and anaesthesia that Benjamin and colleagues developed.
In 1974 Benjamin was awarded an OBE for services to Medicine as a leading Children's ENT specialist in NSW, together with dedicated years of service for honorary duties at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. He qualified in 1977 as Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and in 1993 he was appointed Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology at Sydney University, and that year, became foundation president of the Australasian Society of Paediatric Otolaryngology.
In 2003 his work was acknowledged with the Order of Australia for services to paediatric laryngology particularly airways diseases in children.
Although Benjamin officially retired in 1999 at the age of 68, he continued with consultation, and writing articles, the last being published in 2016.
Reflecting on his life's work, he especially liked to consider himself as a medical educator, starting first with residents and nurses, then registrars and the fellowships in laryngo-broncho-oesophagology.
The Fellows came from around the world, often revealing other talents. Included was Dr Marzio Innocenti from Italy, an ENT specialist who was also former captain of the Italian Rugby Union Team. Another was Dr David Parsons from South Carolina who was a top gun pilot with the US airforce who then decided to become an ENT surgeon. All have spoken of their very valued time of learning from Benjamin's pioneering techniques.
He played golf for most of his life, being a member at Killara Golf Club since 1951 and Elanora Country Club since 1982. He had five hole-in-ones from five different courses. He also built and finely painted a collection of over 60 model aeroplanes. His interest in aeroplanes began as a boy growing up in Wagga during World War II when he and his brother made solid balsa silhouettes of enemy planes for the Australian Airforce pilots and crew, to help them identify enemy aircraft.
Their efforts were thanked by giving them a thrilling ride in a Bristol Beaufighter from the local RAAF airfield at Forest Hill. In 2004 he authored a book being a history and explanation of the stained glass windows at Scots Kirk, Mosman, where he and his wife Nellie were married in 1958. They celebrated 60 years of marriage in January this year.
Bruce Benjamin's legacy includes countless patients whose quality of life has improved due to his medical expertise.
He leaves wife Nellie, son Greg, and daughter Susanne and three grandchildren John, Ben, and Emma.
This obituary was kindly written by son, Greg Benjamin.