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Biographical entry Miller, John Roy Mackay (1921 - 2014)

OBE 1975; MB BS London 1943; MRCS LRCP 1943; FRCS 1946.

26 June 1921
20 September 2014
Alstonville, New South Wales, Australia
General surgeon and Vascular surgeon


Roy Miller was a senior consultant surgeon at Kenyatta National and Nairobi hospitals, Kenya. He was born in Croydon on 26 June 1921, the son of Arthur John Miller, assistant secretary of the Prudential Assurance Company, and Marjorie Louise Miller née Garrett. He was educated at Cumnor House School and then St Lawrence College, Ramsgate.

His undergraduate training took place at King's College Hospital, London. Roy's interest in surgery coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War. As such, his surgical training was expedited during the early 1940s, so that he was able to do part of it while still a medical student. Some of this training took place in Glasgow because of the Blitz in London. Roy won the Hughes prize for anatomy and prosected for the Royal College of Surgeons during his training. In 1943, during the black-out, while a junior doctor at King's, Roy literally collided into his future wife Mary (née Moller), who was still a medical student at the time, in a corridor one night. They were married two years later. Roy's house appointments included the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, where he worked with the father of modern-day plastic surgery, Sir Archibald McIndoe. He was a surgical registrar at King's to Sir Cecil Wakeley and E G Muir (later Sir Edward). Roy gained his FRCS in 1946.

Called up to do his British military service in his capacity as a surgeon, he was posted to Kenya in 1947. Having spent two happy years in Mombasa at the British Military Hospital, he became a provincial surgeon in the Kenya Colonial Medical Service in 1949. Postings to several small hospitals, in particular Kisumu in north-western Kenya, saw Roy serving large populations with very little support in the way of laboratory facilities or X-rays. The X-ray department opened a year after Roy started in Kisumu, coinciding with a memorable ward round with Sir Herbert Seddon, who happened to be visiting. Serving together with Roy in Kisumu for eight years, Mary first developed her interest in anaesthetics, often working in conjunction with Roy on operative cases.

In 1958 Roy was recommended by his senior colleague, Bill Kirkaldy-Willis, an orthopaedic surgeon, for a post as consultant surgeon in Nairobi. Cliff Braimbridge in particular was his surgical mentor early on, and Roy was promoted to senior specialist in 1972, spending 28 years at the Kenyatta National Hospital and Nairobi Hospital. He was ultimately appointed chief surgeon for Kenya, and personal surgeon to the founding president of independent Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta.

Roy enjoyed a busy general surgical and vascular private practice in Nairobi, sharing consulting rooms with well-known surgeons Gerald Nevill and Imre Loeffler. Over the years he became a doyen of the surgical fraternity in Kenya; he was a founding member of the Association of Surgeons of East Africa and president from 1964 to 1965.

During his career Roy published on a variety of surgical topics, starting in 1951 with possibly the earliest demonstration of the value of penicillin and skin grafting for tropical ulcer ('Treatment of tropical ulcer'. East African Medical Journal 1951 Vol.28 p.120). Another area of research was pneumatosis intestinalis, with a study using nitrous oxide and helium ('Pneumatosis intestinalis'. East African Medical Journal 1964 Vol.41 p.194). His main interests however lay in portal hypertension ('Portal hypertension in Nairobi'. East African Medical Journal 1967 Vol.44 p.376) and cancer of the oesophagus. In 1967 he established, in conjunction with Antonia Bagshawe, the first liver clinic at Kenyatta National Hospital. The separation of conjoined twins at the hospital on 18 December 1977, where one twin survived to adulthood, he regarded as technically one of his most memorable operations. Roy was as much a vascular surgeon as general, and he performed some of the earliest aortic grafts in Kenya. He published in this area too, and in 1980 was the first to describe tropical coagulopathic ischaemia and its treatment with streptokinase ('Tropical coagulopathic ischaemia'. The Proceedings of the Association of Surgeons of East Africa 1980 Vol.3 p.83). In 1981, he and his son Brian, who subsequently became a general surgeon and academic at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, set up the first colonoscopy service in Kenya. Another of Roy's passions was the empowerment, with some basic surgical training, of district hospital doctors in Kenya, to decrease the need for urgent transfer of straightforward cases to metropolitan centres.

In 1986, aged 65, Roy retired from surgery and migrated with Mary to Australia to join his daughter in Victoria. Moves to Canberra and northern New South Wales followed and he enjoyed time with his family, including his two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A strong character, Roy had a very perceptive mind. One of the hallmarks of a true professional is to be able to encourage and inspire one's juniors, and herein he excelled. Numerous surgical trainees remember him with affection and gratitude, having become senior surgeons in public, private and professorial posts. His distinguished career led to the award of an OBE in 1975, at an investiture ceremony held in Nairobi, in recognition of his service to health care in Africa.

A number of diverse interests outside of surgery were pursued with customary vigour, particularly dinghy sailing. Roy was the manager of the Kenya sailing team at the Rome Olympics in 1960, having won numerous sailing trophies both on the Kavirondo Gulf at Kisumu and at the Nairobi Dam. Roy loved to sail on Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley, winning the East African Fireball Championship there in 1982, and his sailing continued during his retirement in Australia. Quite late in life Roy mastered computer skills sufficient to correspond with friends and family, and he read the BMJ and Time magazine until the week he passed away.

In closing, Roy Miller was a surgeon's surgeon and a mentor to many. He and Mary, who was increasingly incapacitated during the last 15 years of her life, were married for 70 years. Roy took care of her throughout with loving devotion, respect and support. Her passing in August 2014 was followed just three weeks later by his own demise at age 93, on 20 September 2014. He was survived by his son Brian and daughter Wendy.

Frank J Branicki
Brian J Miller

Sources used to compile this entry: [Hicks, A. 'Historical Note.' The Nairobi Hospital Proceedings 1999 Vol.3 p.65; 'Twin of the Millennium.' The Sunday Nation 2 January 2000; Miller, BJ. 'Colonoscopy in Kenya: the first year.' East African Medical Journal 1986 Vol.63 p.145; Hicks, A. 'Historical note: John Roy Mackay Miller OBE FRCS.' The Nairobi Hospital Proceedings 2000 Vol.4 Issue 5 p.244; University of Nairobi Department of Surgery John Roy Mackay Miller Obituary - accessed 2 July 2015].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England