Desmond Cooper
General surgeon
9 February 1927-16 October 2008

Few surgeons lived their lives as fully as Desmond Albert Cooper, Dr Des. He was an astonishingly good surgeon, a fine man and a man of many talents. As my son said "The Doc was funny, generous, kind, helpful, clever, and friendly and a great sailor and a good fisherman".

Before he died we chatted about his life and he stared me in the eye and said with great seriousness: "I've lived it and I've loved it." Content and successful is the man who can say that.

There were two sides to The Doc. At times he was Dr. Des Cooper: dignified, cultured, learned, professional and charming. At other times he was "Diesel Des": handyman, fisherman, farmer, sailor, mechanic.

The Doc was a master of surgery, boating and fishing. These three pastimes are the greatest source of stories, both real and imagined, ever invented. Our times and memories of the Doc are woven into fabulous tales and wonderful memories.

Des was born in Hobart and grew up enjoying boats and fishing. As a medical student at Melbourne University he was young for his year and not immediately an outstanding student. With prodigious industry and natural intelligence, he topped his year. He obtained First Class Honours in every subject and topped Medicine at Melbourne University in 1949. As Scotty Macleish said: "He was THE star product of 1949."

The Doc's residency was at Royal Melbourne Hospital and his training as a surgeon was a star studded affair. He trained with Sir Albert Coates, E.S.R.Hughes and Weary Dunlop and was much loved at RMH. Scotty reminisced: "He was so good because he was interested in medicine in the broad. He was the finest of surgeons and a great character."

Following residency at RMH he went to Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge for two years. He then drove his Morris Minor to Kuwait where he was surgeon for an oil company. In Kuwait the Doc was his own surgical master. Between 1959 and1965 The Doc was the surgeon in Darwin and his practice covered the Northern Territory, and parts of northern Western Australia in The Kimberley. He was an outstanding general surgeon. I asked him why he worked in Kuwait and Darwin rather than heading to an Australian city and he explained: "Because I wanted to go and have adventure and work where I could do everything, thinking it would be fascinating to be the only surgeon out on my own".

Des returned to Hobart after a six month "refresher" sabbatical at RMH. In Hobart The Doc worked at The Royal Hobart Hospital as honorary consultant surgeon and in private practice until the early 1990's. He was forced to retire at the age of 65 from The Royal in 1992 but continued to work in private practice after that. He then worked for The Royal Flying Doctor Service as a flying surgeon. He finished his surgical career in Derby and The Kimberley, once again being his own surgical master and a true general surgeon.

He was an extraordinary doctor and surgeon, the likes of which we are unlikely to see ever again. There will be intelligent surgeons, but not with charisma, style and a host of other talents and abilities that he had. As a surgeon he was loving, kind, thoughtful, practical and decisive. He was a surgeon of legendary speed and dexterity. He treated patients expeditiously and with respect. He was deft and the range of his surgical ability was awesome. He was a general surgeon in real terms, not just by name.

The Doc helped vast numbers of Tasmanians. He helped patients and their families directly and indirectly as well because he trained and taught a generation of Tasmanian doctors. He taught medical students, junior doctors and junior surgeons as well as nurses. Every person who has met The Doc as a surgeon has a story to tell. Perhaps the most famous story of all is the classic: "It takes class to get a glass from an arse!"

The Doc has left a multitude of Cooper's Laws for all aspects of life. The practice of Surgery was no exception. After A-P resection of the colon: "Early ripe, early rotten". On day one after A-P resection if the patient looks well, is sitting reading the paper and sipping a cup of tea, BEWARE because they will soon be in trouble.

The breadth and depths of his interests in life was wonderful. He was, at times: father, husband, surgeon, sailor, Hobart Marine Board member, Trans Derwent Ferry Operator, fisherman, Member of the Court of Examiners of The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, RACS Tasmanian State Committee member, behind the scenes delicatessen proprietor, Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania Commodore and New Norfolk Football Club Doctor among many others.

We are grateful and we are appreciative to have been touched by The Doc during his life. Des's first wife Leslie died in 1985. He is survived by his wife Marion, and his children Nick, Tim, Mia, Tony and Jason.

Present day surgeons would do well to remember that Des Cooper was never just a surgeon. He was an eximious man who lived an eximious life.

Obituary provided by Michael Vaughan FRACS.