Neil Francis Bright FRACS OAM
5 December 1955 - 28 October 2018
Neil Francis Bright OAM was born in Melbourne on 5 December 1955. He was the oldest of six children, growing up in Yarraville, attending local schools, and was able to enter medical school in the early 1970s thanks to the Whitlam Government's new tertiary education scheme. After graduating from Melbourne University Medical School in 1979 he trained at St Vincents and Prince Henry's Hospitals in Melbourne. After gaining valuable experience in the UK, Neil then spent the remainder of his career in Albury Wodonga.
He built up a busy general surgical practice with a particular interest in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, oesophageal cancer, melanoma, and thyroid disease. He was a foundation member of BreastSurgANZ, and at the time of his retirement was Designated Surgeon at SouthWest BreastScreen. He died on 28 October 2018, just over one year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Because of his interest in breast cancer and melanoma Neil was a significant driver in the introduction of sentinel node biopsy to Albury Wodonga in 2004. Neil was also heavily involved in the establishment of a regular breast cancer multidisciplinary meeting at Albury Wodonga a few years earlier.
Neil was very committed to the public hospital sector, and remained a Visiting Medical Officer to both Albury and Wodonga Hospitals for his entire career. When in 2009, the former Wodonga Regional Health Service and Albury Base Hospitals were amalgamated, forming Australia's first (and only) cross-border health service - Albury Wodonga Health - Neil became its foundation Director of Surgery. This was a demanding role which he fitted into his already busy schedule. He was heavily involved in redistributing surgical operating sessions across two hospitals for more than twenty surgeons. With his reputation for fairness and ability to connect with his peers, a potentially difficult and controversial transition was made with a minimum of fuss. He was able to deal with his colleagues using a combination of common sense, quiet determination and humour, and a masterful display of conflict resolution.
Possibly Neil's greatest contribution to the Albury Wodonga area was his passion for medical education. As a visiting surgeon to a public hospital he always taught surgical trainees his craft, but with the formation of the Albury Wodonga Campus of the University of New South Wales Rural Clinical School in 2000, he was able to commence teaching of medical undergraduates. He was promoted to Clinical Associate Professor, and eventually was appointed as Head of Campus. Not only was he an excellent teacher, he was also a mentor, a role model, and an inspiration. Only three days before his death, too weak to stand and profoundly jaundiced, he attended a University committee meeting and continued to battle for his students.
Neil had a fulfilling private life. With the help of his wife he brought up three beautiful and successful daughters, renovated his house and improved his rural plot in Staghorn Flat, North East Victoria, and involved himself in local schools and church. He was a keen amateur photographer, and in the last week of his life held a very successful exhibition in Albury Wodonga that raised significant funds for the Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre. Well attended by colleagues, nurses, former and current patients, and members of the public, it was a chance for all to hear him speak for the last time, and to say their goodbyes. Neil died at home, surrounded by his family, with his general practitioner in attendance. He is survived by his wife Bryony, three daughters Jacqueline, Clare and Robyn, and new grandson Emmett.
I knew Neil for more than thirty years, beginning with my medical student days at Prince Henry's Hospital when Neil was a surgical trainee. I then worked under him as a surgical trainee when he was a junior consultant surgeon. Then, when I moved to Albury Wodonga twenty years ago, Neil and I forged a close working relationship, sharing consulting rooms for the last 17 years.
I was both honoured and devastated when Neil asked me to care for him when he became suddenly unwell in late 2017. I was with him when he received the initial ultrasound results that he hoped would (and I knew would not) reveal gallstones as a cause for his jaundice. On that day Neil asked me to explain to his lovely wife Bryony the likely outcome of the diagnosis. The calm and composed way that both he and Bryony took the bad news was inspirational and, throughout the gradual and inevitable course of his illness, their good humour and outward demeanor hardly ever wavered. Neil, Bryony, and I were very grateful for the expertise and skill of our colleagues Mr Ben Thomson FRACS, Dr Tony Speer FRACP, and Dr Craig Underhill FRACP, for their advice, care, and skill, during his short and most undeserved illness.
Many of Neil's friends and colleagues in Albury Wodonga, upon learning of his diagnosis, banded together and made a valiant attempt to have him awarded an Order of Australia Medal before his death. It was not to be, but his posthumous granting of an OAM in the General Division, on 26 January 2019, only three months after his death, was just rewards for a surgeon who gave his all for the local community, professional colleagues, and (not either last or least) his family.
He is greatly missed.
This obituary was kindly provided by Dr John Stuchbery FRACS