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Biographical entry Last, Raymond Jack (1903 - 1993)

MRCS and FRCS 1947; MB BS Adelaide 1924; Hon FRACS; Hon FChS; Hon FMAA.

26 May 1903
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
1 January 1993
Anatomist, General practitioner and Medical Officer


Raymond Last was born on 26 May 1903 in Adelaide, South Australia, the son of John Last, a bookseller, and Mildred Louisa Rundle - interestingly he always made a point of describing himself as English! He was educated at Adelaide High School and the University of Adelaide, where he was taught anatomy by Professor Wood-Jones. He graduated MB BS in 1924 just after his 21st birthday, the youngest person ever to qualify in medicine in Adelaide.

He was appointed resident medical officer at Adelaide Hospital in 1925 and then worked as a general practitioner in Booleroo Centre, a country town in South Australia, from 1926 to 1938. Shortly before war was declared in 1939 he came to England seeking a higher surgical qualification. In the winter of 1940 he survived several days in a lifeboat off Iceland, and after being rescued he served with the British forces liberating Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) from Italian occupation. He commanded the Abyssinian Medical Unit from 1941 to 1944 and was personal physician to the Emperor Haile Selassie and his family. From 1945 to 1946 he served with the RAMC in Borneo with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

After the war he returned to London to take the FRCS and was appointed anatomy demonstrator and curator at the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1950 he was appointed Professor of Applied Anatomy, a post which he held for the next twenty years, and warden of the Nuffield residential college, looking after the welfare of Commonwealth students in London.

Ray Last was an inspiring teacher of anatomy, and his stimulating lectures on the primary FRCS course at the College are remembered by generations of aspiring surgeons from all over the world. His textbook Anatomy: Regional and applied, first published in 1954, ran to eight editions and was immensely popular for its clarity and style, being based on general principles and their surgical application. The excellence of his own illustrations was later recognised by the Medical Artists' Association who awarded him an honorary fellowship in 1992. He also edited Wolff's Anatomy of the eye and orbit, Aids to anatomy, and he wrote various papers on applied anatomy, especially of the knee joint.

After retirement in 1970 he went to live in Malta, but he received many invitations to lecture abroad and for the next eighteen years he spent several months each year as visiting professor of anatomy at the University of California, Los Angeles. He travelled widely, lecturing in India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, and delighted in meeting his former students.

His retirement was marked by the presentation of a portrait by Joan Whiteside, an oil painting of the Royal College of Surgeons by Anne Wright and also of a commemorative parchment book with letters from hundreds of contributors. These were donated by his former residents and students, who remembered him with gratitude and affection, recognising the important influence he had on their subsequent careers. He generously endowed a chair of comparative anatomy at the University of Adelaide with the royalties from his textbook.

Despite failing eyesight he remained active until his death, aged 89, in Malta on 1 January 1993. He married twice, firstly to Vera Jedell in 1925, and secondly to Margret Milne in 1939 who died in 1989. He had two sons by his first marriage -Professor John Last, an emeritus epidemiologist in Ottawa, and Peter Last, a medical administrator in Adelaide, both of whom survived him.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Ann R Coll Surg Engl Coll Faculty Bull May 1993].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England