OBITUARY Bruce Benjamin

Fri, 29 Jun 2018


Professor Bruce Neil Procter Benjamin AO, OBE, MBBS, DLO, FRACS, FAAP, FACS (honorary)

Bruce Benjamin died on 3rd June 2018 after years of deteriorating health. He was born in Wagga on 20th December 1931, son to Dr Neil Benjamin and Lena Procter, and younger brother to Clifford. His initial schooling was in Wagga and after 1945 at Sydney Grammar School. While doing Medicine at Sydney University Bruce stayed at St Paul's College, graduating in 1956. He was Pathology Registrar at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney and then ENT Registrar at Sydney Hospital. He obtained the DLO (Syd) in 1961 after which he was appointed to Sydney Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children (the "Children's" Hospital) as Honorary ENT Surgeon.
From 1961 until his retirement in 1999 Bruce was a general ENT surgeon in private practice in Macquarie Street, Sydney in partnership with Dr Victor Bear. Sydney Hospital was downgraded in 1983 after which Bruce moved to Royal North Shore Hospital until his retirement. When the Children's Hospital was moved from Camperdown to Westmead in 1995 he moved with it but resigned from the active staff in 1996 because of the problems of taking on call at the new site. He was appointed Consultant to Prince of Wales Children's Hospital in 1972 and to Royal Melbourne Children's Hospital in 1988 because of his expertise in children's airways' problems and also to Sydney Hospital and the Children's Hospital (Westmead) after he left their active staffs.
It was for his memorable achievements in paediatric airways' disease and also laryngology (both adult and paediatric) that Bruce became renowned. He popularised the use of telescopes particularly for endoscopic photography in these areas. It was for perfecting techniques in these areas for which he is probably best known. He recognised the importance of photography and then video recording not only for documentation but also teaching. His "Atlas of Paediatric Laryngology" published in 1981 set new standards for endoscopic photography and established him as world leader in the field. This position was maintained for years by several further landmark textbooks on the topic, either as sole or part author and teaching videos and films. Innovation was another of Bruce's strengths. He designed 13 new instruments either alone or in cooperation with colleagues and had a particularly strong association with the Karl Storz Company. He was always ready to cooperate with other disciplines to improve patient care and his cooperation with anaesthetist colleagues, especially Dr Verlie Lines of the Children's Hospital, Camperdown greatly improved the safety of anaesthesia for paediatric airways' endoscopy by using inhalational anaesthesia with spontaneous respiration combined with topical anaesthetic.
Although Bruce was renowned for his contributions to paediatric airways' disease, he was also a general ENT surgeon covering most aspects of our specialty. He gained his DLO just when stapedectomy was introduced and so gained enormous experience of it so that he was an expert stapedectomist. He had a wide range of paediatric interests and expertise which included mastoiditis, early identification of childhood deafness (he was particularly sympathetic to the needs of deaf children and actively supported the Shepherd Centre for Deaf Children) and also drooling and swallowing problems in children, regarding which he often attended the Spastic Centre of New South Wales. For 12 years Bruce did honorary work for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, on numerous times flying out to see patients at outback NSW communities such as Wilcannia, Tibooburra, Menindee, and Broken Hill.

Teaching was one of Bruce's great passions. He was one of the founding members of ASPORL (now ANSPO) and was its first president (1993 - 1996) as well as being the driving force behind several courses for trained ENT surgeons which helped lift the standard of paediatric ENT practice in Australia and New Zealand. His wide expertise enabled him to be a balanced and forceful Honorary Secretary and then President of the Board of Otolaryngological Studies (BOLS) which he helped found in New South Wales to train registrars and which was partly the model for the current training scheme. He gave generously of his time and continued to teach registrars at weekly teaching sessions at Sydney Hospital for 20 or more years. His sound knowledge combined with common sense, clarity of thought and inspired teaching greatly influenced almost a generation of ENT surgeons trained in Sydney and so helped improve patient care. He also helped improve patient care with his publications which included over 100 scientific papers (the last two years before he died), several textbooks, over 20 textbook chapters, eight educational films or videos, a commitment to local undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and his establishment in 1983 of a Fellowship at the Children's and Royal North Shore Hospitals to train ENT surgeons further in laryngo-broncho-oesophagology. It became widely recognised for teaching innovative, specialised techniques for both children and adults in airways' endoscopy, microlaryngeal surgery, laser surgery and documentation of the airways.
Bruce was a regular invited speaker at major ENT meetings in North America and elsewhere. He was "Guest of Honor" at four major meetings in the United States. He gave the Semon Trust Lecture for the Royal Society of Medicine in 1985 and the Aditya Birla Oration in India in 1987 and other prestigious memorial lectures. His distinguished contributions to these meetings and the respect they engendered from renowned colleagues were a great boost to the standing of Australian otolaryngology and facilitated the participation of Australian ENT surgeons in activities in North America and in our younger colleagues being able to obtain fellowships there and elsewhere overseas. Amongst his prestigious overseas awards were:
Seymour Cohen Award for Pediatric Laryngology by the American Bronchoesophageal Society in 1981,
Chevalier Jackson Award for contributions to laryngology by the American Bronchoesophageal Society in 1985,
Gabriel Tucker Award for excellence and contributions to pediatric laryngology by the American Bronchoesophageal Association in 1992,
Royal Society of Medicine Atlas Award, 1995
George Davey Howells Prize for the most distinguished published contribution to the advancement of otolaryngology by the University of London in 1998,
Laryngology Award for outstanding service by the American Otolaryngological Society in 1999.
Paul Frenckner Medal inscribed "Pioneer in Bronchoscopy" by the (Swedish) Frencker Society in 2000.
He was also elected a member of the Collegium Oto-Rhino-Laryngologicum in 1986.
Bruce's ENT qualification by examination was the DLO because in 1961 it was an accepted alternative to the FRACS (Otol). He was elected Honorary Fellow of the RACS in 1977, Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1980 and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 2005.

Bruce received numerous honours in Australia, including: in 1973 the Herbert J Marks Award for original work in diseases of the ear, nose and throat from the University of Sydney - in 1974 an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to Medicine as a leading Children's ENT specialist in NSW, together with his dedicated years of service for honorary duties at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children - in 1994 he was made Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Sydney - in 2002 he received the Award for Excellence in Surgery from the RACS - and in 2003 his distinguished life time of work was acknowledged with the award of AO (Officer in the Order of Australia) for services to paediatric laryngology particularly airways diseases in children, through the development of equipment and techniques, clinical practice, teaching and participation in professional organisations.
Towards the end of his life, Bruce said he especially liked to consider liked to consider himself a medical educator. He has left a medical legacy of many patients whose lives he greatly improved either by his direct treatment or by changes he introduced and colleagues grateful for his advice, teaching and assistance.
Outside medicine Bruce had a full life. He married Nellie Marjory Forbes in 1958 at the Scots Kirk, Mosman in Sydney, where his funeral service was held and had two children with her. He was an active sportsman most of his life. Whilst at school and at St Paul's College he played tennis, athletics, cricket, billiards and golf. He continued his golf avidly for most of his life (the family home is just across the street from the Killara Golf Course), being a member of the Killara Golf Club from 1951 and the Elanora Country Club from 1982. Bruce had a first class philatelic collection of stamps from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. He also built and finely painted a collection of over sixty model aeroplanes, a hobby which he started as a boy in World War II, making them with his brother to assist RAAF aircrew based at Wagga in enemy aircraft identification - this earned the boys a thrilling flight in a Bristol Beaufighter. In 2004 he wrote a book on the history of the Scots Kirk, Mosman containing an explanation of its stained glass windows. After his retirement his interests included bridge, lawn bowls, crosswords and the Probus Club.

A fitting memorial tribute was held for Bruce at a well-attended service at Scots Kirk on 7 June 2018. Bruce is survived by his wife, Nellie, his children, Greg and Susanne and grandchildren, John, Ben and Emma Marquard.