John MacDonald Falconer Grant AO OBE
14-08-1922 to 10-11-2013
On 10 November 2013 Australia lost one of its most esteemed and decorated surgical icons in the person of John Grant, who died at age 91. A full account of his life and times appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald "Timelines" of Thursday, 27 March 2014. This highlights his remarkable, respected skills as a neurosurgeon and spinal surgeon. He had an alert and enquiring mind, leading to pioneer work in the surgical management of Parkinson's Disease, before effective medications were available.
Early in his career, John became committed to the rehabilitation of those with spinal disabilities, bringing their problems into the public forum by co-founding the Paraplegic Association of New South Wales in 1960. He carried this interest overseas to Stoke Mandeville, a suburb of the town of Aylesbury in England. The Superintendent of the hospital there was Sir Ludwig Guttman, a world leader in the treatment and rehabilitation of spinal injuries. In partnership with Sir Ludwig and others, John pioneered the setting up of international competitions for impaired athletes. His involvement in these games took him around the world, where his organisational skill won him many international awards including and O.B.E and being made an Officer in the Order of Australia.
These sporting commitments culminated in John being on the stage of the 2000 Para-Olympics in Sydney to welcome the dignitaries, athletes and the tens of thousands of spectators. His official position was Chairman of the Organising Committee.
A the Closing Ceremony of these Games, the vague abdominal symptoms that had concerned him for some weeks beforehand, became acute, leading to major surgery and a prolonged hospital stay.
On a personal note, I was allocated to a surgical team with John while I was Senior Resident Medical Officer at the Royal North Shore Hospital of Sydney in 1955. Working with John gave me the invaluable opportunity to observe and learn from a master surgeon in the operating theatre. Equally valuable were the communication skills that John had with his patients and their relatives. His very quiet voice gave people information, hope and comfort - provided they could hear him!
On 9 September 1955, I assisted John with one of the first thymectomies in Australia for the treatment of myasthenia gravis. John also taught me how to do cerebral angiograms by direct puncture of the carotid artery - a procedure not usually performed by the radiologists of nearly 60 years ago.
I established such a close personal relationship with John that we invited John and Enid to our wedding. We subsequently used North Shore Medical Centre at St Leonards as the headquarters of our surgical practices and worked in the same hospitals and in adjoining theatres.
John stopped operating in 2002, five years after I did but we both continued practice in the medico-legal field. John was still active in this discipline until his final illness, which entailed prolonged, in-patient stays in the Sydney Adventist Hospital in Wahroonga and Mt Wilga Hospital, which he helped to establish.
My frequent visits to see John in hospital heightened my admiration for him - this time as a patient, as opposed to a mentor, inventor, organiser, healer, helper and friend. Knowing all about illness, system failures and the like as a professional does not provide any help or comfort in a protracted, terminal illness. John's acceptance and bravery during these troubled times provided an excellent example of how to manage this critical phase of one's life.
Throughout this time, he was supported by the constant, wonderful and loving support of his wife, Enid and his extended family.
Vale John - it has been a privilege to know you.
Obituary provided by RM Hollings AM FRCS FRACS.