James McKinnon Watts
27 August 1932 - 19 May 2017
Jim Watts was born in Bendigo, Victoria. Following primary schooling in country Victoria he attended Geelong College where he excelled and graduated as dux of his class in 1950. He went to the University of Melbourne where he graduated MBBS in 1956. His residency years were at the Royal Melbourne Hospital where initially he became interested in specializing in medicine. However appendicitis intervened at the time those selections were made and surgery it became. He was appointed surgical registrar at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne and was awarded the distinction of FRACS in General Surgery in 1962.
Jim had an interest in clinical research from the outset and in 1962 to 1964 worked in the Department of Surgery headed by John Goligher in Leeds UK. He held the positions of Surgical Research Fellow and then Lecturer in Surgery.
During 1964 and 1965 he took up a position as Research Fellow in the Department of Surgery, University of California Medical Centre in San Francisco. The Department was headed by J E (Bert) Dunphy, a leading surgical researcher. He and his family then came back to Melbourne and in 1965 to 1968 he worked as Senior Lecturer in the Department of Surgery, Monash University at the Alfred Hospital. In 1968 he was appointed to the Foundation Chair of Surgery at Prince Henry's Hospital in Melbourne. This was the second surgical chair at Monash University.
He moved to Adelaide in 1975 to the Foundation Chair of Surgery at the new Medical School at Flinders University. He held this position until mid-1983 when he resigned to pursue other interests. Jim then went on to develop a very successful private surgical practice largely based at Ashford Private Hospital and was a RACS Councillor from 1987 to 1996.
At the same time he, his family and partners started what was to become a most successful vineyard and winery in McLaren Vale; Fox Creek Wines. He retired from surgery in 1995 and put all of his energies into Fox Creek. Fox Creek has subsequently grown and progressed from strength to strength winning many industry awards as well as domestic and international markets.
This remarkable man has had three successful careers in his 84 years. He was a very successful academic surgeon being one of very few people to have held two foundation chairs of surgery. He had a very successful private practice with many grateful patients in Adelaide and surrounds. Finally he guided and developed a most successful vineyard and winery that is much admired by peers in the industry.
Jim was a gentle man. He was thoughtful and supportive but also had a twinkle in his eye that may have suggested a mischievous nature. This is partly what made him so endearing. He was knowledgeable not only in medicine and surgery and later on in life, viticulture but also in many issues that concern the world at large. He was widely read and had an ongoing interest in the arts. He and his wife Helen were very excited to come to live in Adelaide in the late 1970s as without doubt Adelaide was becoming the cultural centre of Australia with its bi-annual Festival of Arts and emerging café society. They enjoyed many of the productions at the Festivals over the years and supported the state theatre company by annual subscriptions. Their success with Fox Creek allowed a marriage of their interest in the arts and their wines and they have supported a number of the artistic events and festivals as sponsors.
Jim was a gracious host and along with Helen enjoyed debating the various issues of the day over a glass of good red; preferably from McLaren Vale. Jim married nurse Helen Murray in 1958. They have 4 children, three girls (Kristin, Sarah and Georgy) and one boy (Paul). All three of his daughters are now successfully involved in the wine industry and his son pursues an interest in agriculture.
Of his surgical protégés a number have had successful careers in surgery and hold/have held professorial appointments. Academically during his time in surgery he has made significant contributions in a wide range of areas. His team at Prince Henry's Hospital in Melbourne had a successful laboratory based program in exploring the intricacies of liver transplantation. In addition they developed one of the early models of extracorporeal liver perfusion for the treatment of acute liver failure. They successfully treated their first patient in acute liver failure from Hepatitis B in 1973 taking over the function of the liver externally whilst her own liver recovered.
He was the first Surgeon President of the Gastroenterological Society of Australia. During his presidency he led a successful bid to host the World Congress of Gastroenterology that was held in Sydney in 1990. At the time this was the most successful world congress ever held and due to the financial arrangements put in place by the then council the society has enjoyed a remarkably successful record making significant contributions to the world of gastroenterology.
In Adelaide Jim's team made two amongst many landmark contributions that have stood the test of time. An innovative population based study in Strathalbyn contributed to our knowledge of diet and a variety of gastrointestinal disorders. Secondly he brought together the three university surgical departments in Adelaide to conduct what has become known as the Adelaide Obesity Study that explored prospectively the relative merits of three types of operations for the treatment of obesity. This was one of the early clinical studies that demonstrated that prospective randomized studies can be done in surgery, something which at the time was thought to be heretical.
Those of us who have been fortunate over the years to have known Jim would know that his passing would be viewed as just another episode of his life. He would simply open a bottle of Fox Creek, sit down and we would discuss the events of the day.
Cheers to you my friend and to a life well lived!
James Toouli MBBS PhD FRACS
Emeritus Professor of Surgery