Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Huckstep, Ronald Lawrie (1926 - 2015)

CMG; MB ChB Cambridge 1952; FRCS 1958; MD; FRCS Edin; FRACS.

22 July 1926
Chefoo, China
10 April 2015
Orthopaedic surgeon and Trauma surgeon


Ronald Lawrie Huckstep was the inaugural professor of trauma and orthopaedic surgery at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, and before that at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. He was born in Chefoo, China, on 22 July 1926. His father, Herbert George Huckstep, was appointed director of education in Shanghai, following a career of teaching in London, the West Indies and Shanghai. His mother, also a teacher, was born in China. Her Scottish father was an officer on a China tea clipper ship and remained in Shanghai as a Yangtse River pilot.

Ron and his younger brother John spent their early childhood in Shanghai. Ron's formal education was interrupted on several occasions. In 1938 he was confined to bed for a year with rheumatic fever. In 1939, when he turned 12, it was decided that he should go to boarding school in England. After an eventful journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, the family remained in Britain for a few months, then returned to Shanghai. Following the attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, Ron and his family were placed under house arrest, but he was able, at the age of 15, to attend an engineering institute, engineering being his primary interest. Travel was soon forbidden, so he started basic studies for an external medical degree from a Paris University. In April 1943, Ron and his family, along with other British subjects, were interned by the Japanese, where they remained until 1945. Ron was able to continue his medical studies in a rudimentary fashion in the internment camp, thanks to the initiative of a missionary doctor, Donald Cater, who organised a secret medical class, using their own emaciated bodies as anatomy models. As a result of this, in 1946, Ron was accepted by Queens' College, Cambridge, to read medicine.

Following graduation from Cambridge University, Ronald pursued his clinical training at the Middlesex Hospital, London. After qualification and some early house appointments, he travelled to Kenya in 1954 to widen his clinical knowledge. It was the time of the Mau Mau uprising, and Ron was put in charge of a typhoid ward and an internment camp for Mau Mau suspects. His work in this field formed the basis of his Cambridge University MD thesis.

Returning to London, he completed surgical house appointments at the Middlesex and the Royal National Orthopaedic hospitals. During this time, he gained fellowships of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of Edinburgh and England.

In 1959 Ronald was appointed as chief assistant to the orthopaedic unit at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London. In that same year he was awarded a Hunterian professorship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England for his work on typhoid fever.

In 1960 he married Ann Macbeth (the daughter of Ronald Macbeth, an ENT surgeon). At this time, he was appointed senior lecturer at Makerere University Medical School, Kampala, Uganda, in order to establish an orthopaedic department within the department of surgery.

During the course of ten years in Uganda, Ron developed a flourishing orthopaedic and trauma service, eventually becoming professor of trauma and orthopaedic surgery. With the help of the Round Table, he established a polio clinic and a workshop for the manufacture of simple appliances, such as calipers and crutches, as well as simple wheelchairs. Simple correction of deformities resulting from poliomyelitis was a large part of his work. He also travelled extensively in Uganda, establishing clinics in outlying hospitals.

Pope Paul VI visited the clinic in 1969 during a pilgrimage to Uganda. In 1970 Ron was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George for his work with disabled patients.

During this time Ron worked on early models of the 'Huckstep nail'. He also developed the 'skelecast', a simple means of immobilising fractures.

In 1970 the Commonwealth Foundation invited him to become their first travelling professor in order to visit developing countries. He embarked on a 50,000 mile round-the-world tour, over a period of four months. This was recorded in Orthopaedic problems in the newer world: report on a Commonwealth Foundation lecture tour March-September 1970 (1971), published by the Commonwealth Foundation.

As a result of this tour, Ron was instrumental in founding World Orthopaedic Concern in 1973, a forum for orthopaedic surgeons from around the world to meet and discuss the management of disabled patients in developing countries.

As the political situation in Uganda became increasingly unstable, Ron accepted the position of inaugural chair of trauma and orthopaedic surgery at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, arriving in Australia in 1972 with Ann and their three children.

The position presented new challenges, but a viable department, as well as a comprehensive orthopaedic programme, was established. He also streamlined the accident and emergency services, and served on road trauma and other committees. Ron was passionate about teaching, both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. He continued his research in various materials for implants. With a research team, he developed the Huckstep intramedullary compression nail for difficult fractures and also a ceramic hip.

His publications were many and included a book on typhoid fever, simple guides to trauma and orthopaedics, as well as a simple guide to poliomyelitis.

In retirement Ron continued to lecture and travel, keeping in touch with colleagues worldwide. His latter years were marred by increasing mobility difficulties following a hip fracture, but his mind remained active and sharp. He had a special interest in the activities of his six grandchildren.

Ron Huckstep died on 10 April 2015, at the age of 88. His legacy is the gratitude of his colleagues, students and patients in many parts of the world.

Ann Huckstep

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Ronald Lawrie Huckstep - accessed 20 April 2016].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England