26 February 1932 - 20 January 2014
Monday 20 January 2014 was a very sad day, Professor David Lees died.
David was an inspirational, dedicated surgeon and teacher who was dedicated to his patients, the junior medical staff and students. He 'gave his all' to the Launceston General Hospital (LGH) and especially to teaching the clinical skills necessary to be a good doctor. He had an outstanding work ethic and insisted on maintaining the high standards of behaviour in the operating theatre despite the protestations of the old brigade. David was an old fashioned, unassuming and very intelligent person. He was humble, hardworking and a quiet achiever and rarely acknowledged for his outstanding performance as a clinician and colleague. On reviewing his achievements and legacy it becomes obvious that this man did an enormous amount to improve the standards of all activities within the Launceston General Hospital.
David was born in 1932 and schooled in Scotland, and graduated MBBCh in 1959. He was a resident and registrar at the Edinburgh Infirmary until 1969. He worked with the famous neurosurgeon Professor Norman Dott and obtained the FRCS Ed in 1966. David had aspirations to become a neurosurgeon but became disenchanted with the English health system and accepted the position as general surgeon at the Scottsdale Hospital in Tasmania. In 1969 he arrived in Tasmania with his wife Christine and three children, Tony, Derek and Susan. Scottsdale Hospital was nothing like he was told, so after three years he was appointed to the LGH as a general surgeon and coordinator of the Tasmanian Medical School's student program in the north of the state.
David was instrumental in ensuring that 'the teaching of medical students was integral to the operations within the hospital'. David and all consultants at the LGH appreciated that the only way to increase the standard of the young doctors working at the LGH was to teach and train future generations. Due to David's enthusiasm the students positively regarded their training in Launceston and consequently the medical student numbers steadily grew each year.
David was a keen photographer and self-confessed "techno-freak and fix it man" hence he was attracted to computers and microsurgery. In 1973 he persuaded the Launceston Apex Club to buy the first operating microscope at the LGH. One day in 1976, as he was going home, he heard that a man had lost his hand in a workplace accident. He took the patient along with the hand back to theatre and reattached it. The hand survived, along with the patient, and this happy episode was the first successful limb reattachment in Australia.
In 1986 David, as thesecretary of the LGH Department of Surgery, introduced computers into the hospital and initiated a computerised auditing system for surgical patient outcomes, student and registrar training and word processing for the submission of articles to be published. In 1992 he found many old computers for the medical student laboratory which helped to ensure a continuing accreditation for the UTAS medical school. The medical students were much quicker in accepting the new systems than the surgeons.
David was the deputy director of surgery from 1972 till 2002 and took responsibility for upgrading the standards in all areas of the surgical department. It was during this time he was awarded the FRACS by the Australian College of Surgeons. In addition to his responsibilities as a surgeon for the Tasmanian community David also found time to undertake the role of educator for the St. John's Ambulance service where he organised a reputable teaching and examination program.
In 1993 David stopped general surgery and concentrated on plastic and reconstructive surgery, especially in hand surgery. During his time here in Launceston, until his retirement in 2002, he operated on more than 15,000 patients. His technique was meticulous, careful and gentle. His results were great.
David never made a fuss, nor focussed on his achievements, nor did he ever ask or expect gratitude or reward for his contribution to the health care of Northern Tasmanians. Nevertheless, we the recipients of 30 years of his skill, dedication and knowledge appreciate his contribution and will endeavour to maintain his profile and legacy. I am sure that all of us who have had a connection with David, and his subtle Scottish sense of humour, be it professionally or socially have benefited from his presence.
I am certain that his wife Christine and children, Tony, Derek and Susan as well as his four grandchildren will keep his spirit alive. David was a truly good person. He was an exceptional friend and mentor. He was professional in his approach, polite and well meaning. As a colleague, ally and in particular my friend I salute David for his unwavering loyalty and his capacity to remain steadfast to the necessity of providing outstanding care to patients in northern Tasmania.
Obituary kindly provided by Professor Berni Einoder