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Biographical entry Jansz, Aubrey William (1926 - 2011)

MB BS Colombo 1948; FRCS 1959.

8 November 1926
19 October 2011
General practitioner and General surgeon


Aubrey Jansz, the youngest of three children, was born in Sri Lanka; his father was a bookstore manager and his mother a nurse. He initially attended Royal College, completing his secondary schooling at Alexandra College from where he won the prestigious Rustomjee Jamshediji Jeejeeboy Scholarship to study Medicine at Colombo University, graduating in 1948. Having completed Internship in Sri Lanka, Aubrey was then appointed Lecturer in Physiology at the University of Colombo and it was here that he was stimulated and encouraged to pursue surgery. Having obtained his First Part FRCS, he then travelled to UK to study and sit the Second Part FRCS, working at The Seaman's Hospital, Croydon General and Great Ormond Street Hospitals. His son, Martin, took Aubrey to visit The Seaman's Hospital in Greenwich some years ago, as he had a great fondness for it. Evidently he had been able to see the 'Cutty Sark' from his window and, more importantly, it was here that he learned so much from surgical mentors of many nationalities that he was able to be a 'good surgeon'.

From earliest childhood, Aubrey had indicated that he wanted to help people and be challenged; hence his becoming a doctor and subsequently a surgeon was no surprise.

In 1962, Aubrey, his wife Patricia and daughter Andrea migrated to Melbourne. Aubrey's first position in Melbourne was at the Prince Henry's Hospital where he took up a post as an Honorary Clinical Assistant Surgeon to the Outpatient's Department. This position kept him in touch with clinical surgery, but there were no operating rights as was the practice of that era. It was here that he met Ken Brearley (FRACS), the Acting Honorary Surgeon to Outpatients. At about the same time in 1963, Aubrey joined three other doctors in a practice in Melville Road, Pascoe Vale South; it was fairly common then for surgeons to work as 'GP-surgeons' in a general practice.

In 1964 Aubrey was lured 'across the Yarra' by Ken, to take up a position at Preston and Northcote Community Hospital (PANCH) where the outpatient numbers there were building rapidly and Aubrey was appointed as a Clinical Assistant Surgeon to Ken's Unit. In those days the work was honorary, but after some years payment was introduced, courtesy of the Whitlam Government. And so it was that Aubrey commenced his long and rewarding career in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.

Initially, whilst still at the Melville Road GP practice, Aubrey was operating at Sacred Heart, Vaucluse and PANCH hospitals, but soon after commencing at PANCH, he was appointed as an Assistant Surgeon in Ken's Unit which gave him operating rights and responsibilities. By 1975, his surgical practice was secure and he ceased GP work, however the legacy of his time in general practice lived on.

In 1986, following the untimely passing of John Fethers, Aubrey was appointed Head of the Surgical 3 Unit where he became interested in Upper GI endoscopy and evidently introduced the first gastroscope to PANCH. His surgery was of a high standard and the care of his patients was exemplary.

Aubrey possessed a quiet, pleasant and respectful personality which rendered him most popular with staff, colleagues and patients, added to which he also had a well-developed sense of humour. Ken remembers being told by Aubrey that he had once operated on a patient, a young girl with peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. On receiving the account, probably in the order of $200 in those days, the girl's father told him the fee was too high and refused to pay. Aubrey then suggested he should pay whatever he felt his daughter's life was worth; he duly received a cheque for $50!

Inquisitiveness was perhaps something Aubrey inherited from his bookstore manager father. He delighted in books and found nothing more pleasant than spending half a day browsing around small bookshops in and around Melbourne, from where he would emerge with one or two extraordinary volumes. He later became PANCH Medical Librarian, a position he greatly enjoyed. Palliative Care and philosophical matters of life and death were things that had always interested Aubrey, and he was greatly impressed and influenced by the inspirational Helen Kübler-Ross who had given a number of lectures in Melbourne.

His inquiring mind and reading on a broad range of subjects resulted in Aubrey challenging, in all manner of ways, colleagues, students and family alike, urging them to solve puzzles and to question statements made by others. This made him a great teacher for most of his life, combining common sense, humility and whimsy. In a way, the lessons were more about life and surgical attitudes than strict clinical material. Not surprisingly, Aubrey was held in high regard by all students attached to his Unit, as well as at St Vincent's Hospital Clinical School where he continued to take 'Lumps and Bumps' sessions for a good many years after he retired from PANCH and active surgery in 1992. One of the important hints he passed on was that: 'It is important to buy two copies of any special book, so that when a volume is lent to a colleague, you are thus assured of retaining a copy when this 'lent' book inevitably fails to return!'

Another special attribute was the care and attention, surgical and emotional, that he gave to his patients at all times, both in the Public and Private sectors. Years after retiring, Aubrey's patients continue to ask after his health and comment on his interest in them as people, rather than them being 'just another case.'

What greater legacy could one have?

On one occasion Aubrey challenged his colleagues by enquiring: 'How many of you have had occasion to visit your patient in their home?' - his reason being - that to visit someone in their home really grounds the relationship and gives all kinds of insight into their lives.

Aubrey Jansz made a wonderful contribution to the surgical care of the northern suburbs of Melbourne and to the much broader education of his colleagues and medical students at PANCH. He was much loved, respected and is fondly remembered by all as a gentle, compassionate and giving man. Moreover, he was a devoted family man who would frequently tell us of the progress of his children, Andrea and Martin, who certainly lived up to all the expectations held by Aubrey and his loving wife of 56 years - Patricia.

Ken Brearley
Hamish Ewing
The Jansz family

Sources used to compile this entry: [Republished by kind permission of the President and Council of The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons from In Memoriam (].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England