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Biographical entry Robertson, Malcolm Sleeman (1928 - 2012)

MRCS LRCP 1954; MB BS London 1954; FRCS 1958; FRACS 1970.

12 April 1928
Christchurch, New Zealand
4 January 2012
ENT surgeon


Malcolm was born into a medical family in 1928. His father, Malcolm (Senior), was an ear nose and throat surgeon, one of Malcolm's brothers became a paediatrician and the other a psychiatrist. Malcolm was educated at Medbury Preparatory School and at Christ's College. After spending a year at Canterbury University he trained in medicine at St Mary's Hospital, London, qualifying in 1954. While at university he was a prominent athlete, representing Canterbury at a Junior (under 19) level. He was NZ Junior High Jump Champion and was awarded a NZ University Blue in 1947. In the UK he represented United Hospitals and the University of London in athletics.

As a house surgeon at St Mary's Hospital, Malcolm worked for Mr Handfield Jones and for Sir Arthur (later Lord) Porritt. He spent the next year as a house physician at the North Middlesex Hospital gaining experience in general medicine, endocrinology, dermatology, geriatrics and psychiatry and then worked as a senior house officer in orthopaedic surgery at the Albert Dock Seamen's Hospital. In 1956 Malcolm returned to NZ, working at the Christchurch Hospital as Senior Casualty Officer.

A year later Malcolm returned to the UK to follow a career in surgery and passed his Primary FRCS (Eng) examination. Uncertain which surgical specialty he would like to follow, he applied for a position as a senior house surgeon to the Professional Unit at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, London. Excellent teachers in that unit, including Henry Shaw, an early head and neck cancer surgeon, influenced him in his choice of speciality. He subsequently worked for 2 years as a registrar in ENT at University College Hospital, a position which involved working with the plastic unit on head and neck reconstructive procedures. In 1958 Malcolm obtained his FRCS (Eng). For the next 4 years he was Senior Registrar in Otolaryngology at the Royal London Hospital, where he focussed on head and neck surgery and gained considerable experience in salivary gland surgery.

Malcolm was appointed Consultant Surgeon to the Department of ENT Surgery at Christchurch Hospital in 1964. In 1970 he obtained FRACS by examination. Malcolm developed the Head and Neck Cancer Clinic in conjunction with the Radiotherapy Department in 1971 and where surgery was indicated he undertook the procedures, including the reconstructions. In the same year he became a member of the British Society of Head and Neck Oncologists (and was later a Foundation member of the Head and Neck Section of the Australasian College of Surgeons).

Malcolm travelled widely to North America and Europe, visiting head and neck clinics and attending courses on rhinoplasty, otoplasty and endoscopic sinus surgery. Over a period of 25 years he presented papers at almost every NZ and Australian ENT/Otolaryngology Society Conference and at the RACS Annual Scientific Meetings. Malcolm published extensively, including papers on pectoralis muscle flap pharyngeal reconstruction and techniques to identify the facial nerve in parotid surgery.
In 1970 Malcolm was awarded a British Medical Association Gold Medal for his role as Medical Adviser to the NZ National Film Unit in the production of the film "A Deaf Child in the Family".

A key member of the Department of Ear Nose and Throat Surgery (then Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery) at Christchurch Hospital from 1964 to 1995, Malcolm was head of the service 1988-1992. He also was a specialist representative on the Medical Advisory Committee of the Christchurch Hospital for a number of years. Malcolm was a member of the RACS Court of Examiners for several years and President of the New Zealand Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery from 1987 to 1989. After retiring from the staff of the Christchurch Hospital in 1995, he continued in private practice until 1997.

In retirement Malcolm spent many months of the year with his wife Elizabeth at their beloved Golden Bay property, where gardening, sea and trout fishing and reading occupied his time. He also enjoyed travelling to Australia, Europe and Asia. Malcolm wrote a biography of his mother, the artist Dorothy Robertson, and was completing an autobiography of his years in medicine. Malcolm was a devoted father. He had three children, Ian, Stuart and Julie, by his first marriage. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had two children together, Jane and William. He was the proud grandfather of Hamish and Anna. Malcolm is survived by his wife and loving family.

This obituary was contributed by the 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