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Biographical entry Howard, Russell Norfolk (1905 - 1992)

MRCS 1934; FRCS 1935; MB BS Melbourne 1928; MD 1931; MRCOG 1934; FRACS 1945.

9 March 1905
Launceston, Tasmania
31 May 1992
General surgeon and Paediatric surgeon


Russell Howard, whose work was to place Australia in the forefront of paediatric surgery, was born on 9 March 1905 in Launceston, Tasmania, the son of George Howard, a settler from Dublin, and his New Zealand-born wife Elizabeth, née Mitchell. He was educated at Launceston Grammar School where he excelled at cricket and tennis as well as in his studies. He went on to Melbourne University where he graduated MB BS with honours in all subjects in 1928.

After resident posts in Melbourne, including two years as Medical Superintendent of the Children's Hospital, and gaining his MD, he left for London with the intention of making his career in obstetrics and gynaecology. He passed both the primary FRCS and the MRCOG in 1934, and the final FRCS in 1935. During three years in London he was much influenced by Norman Tanner at St James's Hospital in Balham, as well as seeing something of the work of Cecil Joll, Ogier Ward, Tudor Edwards and Russell Brock. It was soon clear that he was to be a surgeon, rather than a gynaecologist.

On return to Australia he was appointed to the honorary staff of the Melbourne Children's Hospital and set up in practice. He married Elizabeth Luxton in 1938. It was an exceptionally happy marriage, and Elizabeth supported him through the difficult parts as well as the successes of his career, and provided him with a close knit family of four daughters and a son.

He served throughout the war in the Australian Army Medical Corps as a major in charge of a Field Surgical Unit at El Alamein, where he suffered a severe shrapnel wound, and as lieutenant colonel o/c Surgical Division in the 2/4 Australian General Hospital in Borneo. After the war, having acquired the FRACS he was appointed surgeon to the Alfred Hospital as well as to the Children's Hospital, and undertook a wide range of surgery. In 1992 the staffing of the Children's Hospital was changed from the old honorary system and Russell Howard was appointed Chief of General Paediatric Surgery on a salaried basis.

His adult practice gradually dropped off as he devoted his time to the paediatric work in which he excelled. He became famous for his repairs of oesophageal atresia and other thoracic procedures but covered a wide span of operative paediatrics. Inspiring many younger men to follow him, he soon became the leader of the new specialty and secured its recognition in the Australian Royal College, of which he was Vice-President, by the establishment of a special diploma FRCS (paediatric surgery). His contributions were honoured by the award of the Denis Browne Gold Medal of the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons and by his Presidency of the Australian College of Paediatrics.

After retirement from hospital work in 1970 he continued in consulting practice until his 80th year; he was held in great respect and affection by both his colleagues and his pupils. Russell was sometimes austere, punctilious, always punctual and a man who moved with the times. He enjoyed the company of his friends and colleagues and excelled in tennis, squash and bridge. Tennis was a major activity and most suited to his busy life as a surgeon. His hobbies included gardening and ornithology. He died on 31 May 1992, survived by his wife, son Russell, and daughters Gay, Dale, Catherine and Sally-Ann.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Med J Aust 1992 157 708; RACS Bull July 1992, 43].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England