20 December 1932 - 2 March 2017
A leading urologist of his own generation and younger brother-in-law of the urologist James Peters (deceased), Jim O'Collins contributed to the remarkable progress in treating the urinary system made during his years in that specialised field of surgery.
Born on December 20, 1932 James Patrick O'Collins grew up on his parents' property ("Rock Lodge") in the hills outside Frankston. Educated at Xavier College, he became a student at Newman College and in 1957 graduated MBBS at the University of Melbourne.
After a year of residency at the Mater Hospital, Brisbane, working as a casualty surgeon and urologist, he returned to St Vincent's Melbourne for a year as pathology registrar and then senior registrar in surgery. He topped the course for the first part of his FRACS (Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons) before leaving for London and a course at St Thomas' Hospital. Having already completed the first part of his FRACS, in March 1961 he could take the second part of his FRCS (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons) and topped his group.
Three years of enriching practice in England began with an appointment as senior registrar in orthopaedics at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. Jim then moved north to work in Leeds as a urologist at St James' University Hospital (popularly known as "Jimmy's"). At the end of 1962 he was appointed senior registrar at the Bradford Royal Infirmary.
A year later he left for the United States and became a visiting fellow in New York, Boston, Cleveland, Rochester (Minnesota), San Francisco and Los Angeles, at hospitals and centres which included the Massachusetts General Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic.
Returning to Melbourne and taking up an appointment as a research fellow at the Children's Hospital, in 1964 Jim topped the second part of his FRACS (in Urology).
From December 1965 to May 1966, he served in Vietnam, where he ran a hospital close to the Cambodian border. Attached to the South Vietnam army as a colonel, he was the only urologist in Vietnam. But his main concern was with other medical challenges - in particular, with the high incidence of tuberculosis and similar diseases. He succeeded in lowering the mortality rate at his hospital from 33 per cent to nine per cent.
Back in Melbourne, Jim became assistant urologist at Prince Henry's Hospital. Persuaded by the growth of population in the south-east of the city, he started urological units at Dandenong District Hospital and Frankston Hospital. He also operated regularly down the Mornington Peninsula at Mornington and Rosebud, as well as at Bairnsdale, Maffra and Sale in Gippsland.
During the 1977 federal elections, his prize patient at Frankston Hospital was the local member who was also the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, Phillip Lynch. Jim received anxious phone calls from the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, and kept assuring him: "Don't worry, Malcolm. I'm keeping him in hospital and making sure the press can't get to him."
At the time Lynch was under fire over an alleged conflict of interests involving a family trust, but was subsequently cleared by an official inquiry that followed the elections.
Head of surgery at Frankston Hospital for many years, from 1970 to 1990 Jim was the busiest urologist in Australia. Married in 1967 to Rosemary ("Posey") Calder, Jim treasured his work in Frankston and life with his wife and two children at the family home, and declined tempting appointments from elsewhere.
An outstanding surgeon, Jim prized the anaesthetists, radiologists, theatre sisters and others who worked with him. But he grumbled about the bureaucrats, whom he believed often wasted funds without producing better health care for the wider public.
An unfailingly courageous person, Jim died on March 2 after struggling with three forms of cancer over the last 15 years of his life. He was enduringly grateful to Cabrini Hospital for its expert and kindly support.
His wife Posey cared for him with unfailing love. He is survived by her, his two children James and Victoria and their two sons and two daughters.
This obituary was kindly provided by Gerald O'Collins SJ, AC, James O'Collins' brother.