Oliver Ross Nicholson
Orthopaedic Surgeon
12 October 1922 - 13 Juy 2013

When Ross Nicholson passed away in Auckland on 13 July 2013, New Zealand Orthopaedics lost a true leader, a "Giant" with an outstanding influence over 50 years.

He was educated at Auckland Grammar School, then at the University of Otago Medical School, graduating in 1947. His Orthopaedic training was in Auckland and London at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital under Professor Sir Herbert Seddon. On his return to New Zealand he became a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Middlemore Hospital from 1957 to 1987. Just prior to that he was the first New Zealand ABC Fellow in 1956.

Some have described him as one of the founders of modern Orthopaedic surgery in New Zealand. In particular, with his special interest in hip and spine surgery, at Middlemore Hospital he:

  1. Developed the first Scoliosis Unit in New Zealand at Middlemore Hospital.
  2. With the late John Morris, pioneered the introduction of the Charnley Total Hip Replacement to New Zealand.
  3. Developed the establishment of the Otara Spinal Unit for patients with severe spinal injuries.

With his particular interest in Academic Orthopaedic Surgery and the education of young Orthopaedic Surgeons he:

  1. Developed the Orthopaedic Academic Unit in the Department of Surgery at the University of Auckland.
  2. Was an inaugural member of the Education Committee of the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association and, as such, developed the Orthopaedic Training Programme in its current form.
  3. Established the Sir William Stephenson Personal Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery occupied by Professor Harley Gray in 1975.

As would be expected of a person with his energy, ability and commitment, he held every Office in the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association culminating in his being the 17th President from 1982 - 1983. He received every major award in the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, including the Louis Barnett and Gillies Medals, and was a Wolfson Travelling Fellow.

His invitations as Visiting Professor and Guest Speaker were numerous and, as such, he was the face of New Zealand Orthopaedic Surgery in many prestigious units in North America and the British Commonwealth. The contacts he made were subsequently invaluable for the training of young New Zealand Orthopaedic Surgeons in other parts of the world (myself included).

He had many other interests and held prestigious positions in the Auckland Rugby Union, was a life member of the Auckland Racing Club and the Barbarians Rugby Club, a Northern Club Trustee and President. In addition he was Chairman, Trustee and Committee Member of many other organisations.

It is not surprising that, as a result of all these achievements, he was awarded an O.B.E. in 1976. Many believe he deserved some higher recognition.

He was always engaging with a great sense of humour. It was fortunate that a number of his younger colleagues were able to honour Ross on the occasion of his 90th birthday last year, when many told stories and paid tribute to the great man, and he himself made a memorable speech.

He set very high standards for himself and for others but was always fair and encouraging. He was a man of great integrity, drive, high intellect and warmth.

He was indeed unique in his lifetime devotion to Orthopaedic Surgery and with his ability to embrace new technology, retained an interest and influence right up to near the end. He has left as his legacy the annual Ross Nicholson Lectureship of the Auckland Orthopaedic Society. At his funeral the Society sent a message stating that "A mighty Kauri tree has fallen". Fortunately the tree has left many flourishing young seedlings to take its place.

Ross was predeceased by his loving and very supportive wife Pauline, some years ago, and he is survived by his daughter Caroline and Mike Thorburn and their family.

We salute a truly great man, Oliver Ross Nicholson.

Obituary provided by Garnet Tregonning FRACS.