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Biographical entry Guest, James Stuart (1916 - 2015)

AM; OBE; VRD; BSc; MBBS; Hon DMedSci Melbourne; FRCS 1949; FRACS.

11 July 1916
Mildura, Victoria, Australia
20 January 2015
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Colorectal surgeon and General surgeon


Jim Guest died peacefully in Melbourne on 20th January 2015, during his 99th year. He had a distinguished career in surgery, medical education and civilian life.

Jim was born in Mildura, the only child of Edith and James. His early education was at Mildura West State School and subsequently Geelong Grammar School. His admission to Melbourne University and Trinity College was the start of great things. In the Science Faculty he specialised in zoology (winning the Baldwin Spencer Prize) and comparative anatomy, much influenced by Professor Frederic Wood Jones. He obtained a Bachelor of Science in 1938, then entered the medical course, to graduate in 1941. He rowed for Trinity and the University in several winning crews, and was awarded a blue for rowing.

Following graduation, he was appointed to the junior medical staff of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where he served from 1941 to 1943, when he joined the Royal Australian Navy as a medical officer on HMAS Westralia.

The Westralia was a cruiser and had just undergone a major refit and was used as a troop carrier. She had an operating theatre where Jim, with senior surgeon Douglas Lesley, performed surgery on injured soldiers. They took part in a number of landings, mainly serving in waters north of Australia, where his distinguished service led to the OBE award. During this time, Jim needed a particular type of surgical retractor. He convinced the ship's engineer to fashion the instrument, which is still exhibited in the museum at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

Over many years after the war, he contributed to the rehabilitation of Ambon, as described in the book "Gull Force" by Joan Beaumont.

"We were getting ready to go into Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped," Jim once said. "I didn't really know what I was going to do next, except that I wasn't going to grow grapes in Mildura." He planned to build on his early war-time surgical experience.

Returning to the Melbourne University Anatomy School, Jim also became surgical tutor at Trinity College. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons awarded him the Gordon Craig Travelling Fellowship in 1948, for experience at the Connaught Hospital and St Mark's Hospital, London. During this time he developed his interest in colorectal surgery.

Whilst completing his English surgical fellowship, he married Simonette ("Timmie") Macindoe in London. They returned to Australia in 1952 when Jim was appointed honorary surgeon at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, initially working with Mr Marshall Renou.

Jim made his name as a colorectal surgeon. His forte was an ability to consult on a complicated patient, where his opinion was frequently sought. He became Dean of the Alfred Clinical School, responsible for teaching undergraduate medical students at the hospital. His teaching was clear and fundamental. As head of the unit, Jim expected the commitment and service he so readily gave himself. He subsequently became senior surgeon at the hospital, and during this time was also examiner for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He was elected to the Board of Management of The Alfred in 1971. He retired from the active staff in 1976 but remained Consultant until 1981.

He continued his interest in anatomy, and in 1989 was invited to give the Vicary Lecture, a prestigious lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. His subject was "John Hunter's Disciple - Frederic Wood Jones". This lecture remains a classic reflection on comparative anatomy.

He maintained his involvement in the Navy, and became naval aide to the Governor of Victoria for some years.

He was a member of the board of management and, subsequently, Chair of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute, steering that hospital through troubled waters during the development of cancer services in Melbourne.

Jim became medical adviser to the Jack Brockhoff Foundation, and later Chairman of the board, and Patron through his senior years. He was instrumental in developing the Jack Brockhoff Chair of Child Health and Wellbeing at the University of Melbourne.

He also contributed to development of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, and many other causes. He was a long time member, then president, of the Medical History Society of Victoria. He was also active in the history section of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He was president of the Melbourne Club in 1991 and maintained a long involvement in and enthusiasm for that institution.

He was awarded an AM in 1982, for distinguished services to medicine, and later, in 2013, an honorary doctorate from the University of Melbourne.

With all this activity and industry, what of the man? One always knew where one stood with Jim. He was down to earth, gave tirelessly to the positions he held, and was constructively critical when the need arose. He and Timmie were generous hosts and his sense of humour was infectious. He was a marvellous raconteur, with an extraordinary memory for people, places, and stories. He remained interested in everything throughout his life, but especially in young people and their ambitions and enthusiasms. Most admirable was his support and love for his family. Jim's dedication to his wife, both during the long period when she was in Fairfield Hospital in 1959, and the decade of her final illness, when he rarely left her side, is legendary.

James Guest was a big man. He led a big life, which was dedicated to his country, his profession and his family. He was the much-loved and proud father of James (deceased), Charles and Sibella; of grandchildren Thomas, Frank, Stephanie, William, Stuart and Daniel; of daughters-in-law Nerissa and Hilary, and son-in-law Gavin. But he was also an unassuming and modest man, whose own achievements he considered to be simply what one should do. He remained thoroughly engaged with the world, right until his final days - reading The Age with enthusiasm, and particularly enjoying the biographies which made up a large part of his leisure reading.

Checking that all was complete in the operating theatre, staff would say "The final count is correct, Mr Guest". So indeed it proved to be. Rest in Peace.

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