Donald Baldock Leaming FRACS
General Surgeon
1925 - 2019

At 2.00am on 25 May 2019, Don died at the age of 94 after more than seven years of invalidism from a series of strokes. At first Don's walking was affected and he fought back to walking with support. However further lesser strokes occurred until he became bed-bound and his surgical hands 'lost their cunning’. He faced these troubles with dignity and fortitude, uncomplaining. Only once during all that time did he register a comment when he said to me “If you are going to have a stroke, have a big one”.

Don, always known to his friends as Spike, was born in Nottingham 6 February1925, the fourth and youngest child of a non-medical family. He had completed his secondary education at the Henry Mellish school and when the family moved to Newcastle-on-Tyne, he commenced his studies at the Medical School, part of the University of Durham, graduating in 1947. Training in Surgery followed and Don earned his English Fellowship in 1953. That  year also saw Don's marriage to Margaret (Meg) Smith. Harry, the eldest of his siblings had already graduated in Medicine and subsequently became an anaesthetist.

In 1961 he was a well trained surgeon working at his teaching hospital in Newcastle-on-Tyne. Because of the pyramidal structure of the National Health System at that time promotion to consultant status was slow, with many excellent surgeons being in their mid-40s before achieving this. Don decided to look further afield and applied for the position of Reader (one level below full Professor) in a new university surgical unit to be created at the very new Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH) in Brisbane.

The unit head was Professor William (Billy) Burnett one of the last of the Glascow trainees of Professor Illingworth who had provided the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth with many Professors. Unfortunately Billy was known to be a very difficult senior, as several of his staff were to subsequently discover.

Don, Meg and two young children arrived in Brisbane in August 1961 where a stiff westerly wind was causing its usual chill. Brisbanites were dressed in warm clothing but the newly arrived Novocastrians, inured to the Tyneside cold, went to the Oasis Pools and Gardens and, with Meg in a bikini, cavorted in the water. They wondered why there were so few people swimming and also why our part of the world seemed to have so few people. To help with the latter problem they had two more children!

Don then discovered that the new surgical unit did not yet exist (no surprise to the locals) and so he had to work as Senior Lecturer (one step down from Reader) with Billy at the Brisbane General Hospital (now Royal Brisbane Hospital) until early 1962 when the unit was finally opened. This only happened after a 'vigorous' meeting at which Billy demanded 120 beds and was given 30, a decision applauded by Don. In 1963 he received his Australasian Fellowship.

The PAH 1982 year photo showed at the top our new Reader and well down towards the bottom a second year Resident, Lionel Hartley. Don, devoid of pomposity and treating all from student to senior consultant with the same respect and courtesy, fitted in well with PAH surgeons who were striving to create a significant surgical hospital with high standards of education and research. Don contributed by his teaching, research and publications on both surgical subjects and medical education.

Years later I spoke to a female graduate who had been taught by Don in a surgical term. She said “I remember Dr Leaming. He was a lovely man.”

By 1965 Don had decided that he would leave the university surgical department and, replacing the retiring Chris Cummins, became the Flying Surgeon based at Longreach. The Longreach summer was yet another test for this north of England family. Don was joined by anaesthetist Graham Smith who could also fly a plane. Don's popularity in Longreach was evidenced later by the number of locals who visited him and Meg at home in Brisbane and later during his long hospital stay.

In 1968 Don returned to the PAH taking the position created by the retirement of Sir Clarence Leggett and holding that post until his retirement in 1985. During those years Don served as a surgeon in the civilian hospital in Bien-Hoa, Vietnam at a time in that conflict where there was no front line as in former wars. Between 1976 and 1982 he was a member of Queensland Council of the Australian Medical Association, becoming its Chairman. He was also a member of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Court of Examiners (1972-1982) and Queensland State Committee (1965-1973). With these last two posts he arranged that I would replace him on his retirement.

After leaving the PAH Don continued in private practice and came to assist me for many years in operative surgery. It was a very happy time as the anaesthetist for many of these cases was Graham Smith who had worked with him in Longreach.

How can you sum up a life with so many parts. Don was doctor, surgeon, educator, researcher, examiner, administrator, medical politician, husband, father, brother, grandfather, outstanding chef, colleague and warm-hearted friend.

Perhaps it was summed up for us - “ He was a lovely man.”

Obituary kindly provided by Lionel Hartley FRACS