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Biographical entry Windsor, Harry Matthew John (1914 - 1987)

MRCS and FRCS 1947; MB BS Sydney 1938; MS 1944: FRACS 1947; Hon FACS 1963; MD honoris causa New South Wales 1984.

27 October 1914
Cork Island
20 March 1987
Sydney, Australia
Cardiac surgeon and Thoracic surgeon


Harry Matthew John Windsor, one of three sons of Dr Henry Joseph Windsor, a medical practitioner, and of Norah Windsor (née Carwell), was born on 27 October 1914 in Cork, Ireland. His father had left for Australia before his birth and arrived there on 6 August 1914, two days after the outbreak of the first world war. In 1916 Harry and his mother joined Dr Windsor at Toowoomba, Queensland, where he had established a busy general practice before moving to Brisbane. Harry was educated at the Christian Brothers' College and at Nudgee College, Brisbane, before completing first year science at the University of Queensland. He then entered second year medicine at Sydney University in 1934 and graduated with honours in 1938. During student days he played first XV rugby for both Queensland and Sydney Universities. Following resident appointments at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, he served in a field ambulance, a casualty clearing station and hospitals with the Australian Imperial Forces from 1941 to 1946, latterly as a surgical specialist with the rank of Major. He had the distinction of securing the Sydney mastership of surgery during this period.

On demobilisation in 1946 he secured the Gordon Craig Training Fellowship at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney. In the following year he took the FRACS and then moved to England to secure the FRCS before deciding to take up thoracic surgery. He trained at Harefield Hospital, Middlesex, and at the thoracic surgical unit in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Returning to Sydney in 1949 as surgeon to St Vincent's Hospital he began to establish thoracic surgery there and soon embarked on cardiac surgery. He started closed mitral valvotomy in 1951; open heart surgery with hypothermia in 1954 and soon, in 1960, did his first heart operation on cardiopulmonary by-pass. A first valve replacement was done in 1963 and the first Australian heart transplant on 23 October 1968, followed by coronary artery bypass surgery in the following year so that some 7000 of these operations were performed on his unit by 1986. Although officially retired from St Vincent's in 1979, and from Concord Hospital in 1984, he continued in active surgery as an assistant to two of his younger colleagues until 1985. It should be remembered that there was no systematic training in cardiac surgery during his early days. A hallmark of those and later years was the respect and cooperation which he inspired from his physician colleagues. But progress was slow due to limited facilities until he managed to persuade Sir Russell Brock to visit St Vincent's in 1957. Thereafter development continued apace.

Harry Windsor was a keen overseas traveller to the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. He also made seven visits to China, six of these being working trips when he lectured and operated in many parts of that country. He had a good working knowledge of Mandarin Chinese and keenly promoted the training of Chinese as well as Indian surgeons in Sydney. He did much to promote interchange between Australian and Chinese surgeons and had also been a visiting lecturer in Japan. His energy and enterprise were marked by the award of the honorary FACS in 1963 and of the honorary MD, New South Wales, in 1984. His early publications were of a general and pulmonary flavour but he later wrote innumerable papers on all aspects of cardiac surgery, and especially on valve replacement and coronary artery surgery. In 1975 he established the Harry Windsor Prize which makes a modest contribution towards the sending of a young Australian surgeon to the UK, or of a Briton to Australia, in alternate years.

Harry was a tireless and dedicated worker with a great memory for people, places and events. He had a keen wit and a quite mischievous sense of humour. In his youth, as a vigorous rugby player, he had once represented New South Wales. The last five years of his life were marked by several major operations during which time he displayed great qualities of courage and tenacity. He had married Imelda Mary Burfitt in 1942 and they had one daughter, Penelope, and five sons, Gerard, John, Michael, Hugh and Guy, the youngest of whom, Guy is a doctor. When he died in St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney on 20 March 1987 he was survived by his wife and their six children.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Med J Aust 1987, 146, 646-649].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England