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Biographical entry Johnson, David Skeffington (1942 - 2008)

MB BS Sydney; FRCS 1973; FRACS.

24 May 1942
30 November 2008
General surgeon


David Skeffington Johnson's forebears were notably medical. His father Alex Johnson was a well-known surgeon on the staff of Prince Alfred Hospital.

St Ignatius College, Riverview was the school where he was dux; excelling in Latin and Greek. As well he was runner-up in the Cooper Scholarship Examination for Classics. It seems likely that love of the classics was founded then and continued ever after.

He suffered polio at a young age which affected one leg, but did not deter involvement in cricket and rugby.

His tertiary education was at Sydney University Medical School where in 1967 he was awarded the Robin May prize for "outstanding leadership and good fellowship". This was an early recognition of qualities for which he will always be remembered.

In September 1969 David and Kristin Kerr were married and he then began a Post Graduate Education for four years in England. He spent twelve months as a Senior House Officer at Guy's Hospital. This was followed by an appointment for two years as Surgical Registrar at Bournemouth during which time he obtained the FRCS.

Returning home he began practice at Parramatta Hospital. New Guinea was visited several times, often in a locum capacity, where his surgical skills were greatly appreciated. He also travelled to Micronesia with the World Health Organization. With the opening of Westmead Hospital, David was appointed Staff Specialist Surgeon. Major interests are recorded as surgical Gastroenterology and history of surgery.

He became recognized as an ardent teacher and organizer of educational sessions. Visitors from developing countries were catered for and training arranged. He pioneered the Death and Complication Sessions and the College recognised all this valuable help with an appropriate award.

For most of his life he undertook and enjoyed extensive travel, with a strong classical bent. Featured were visits to a wide range of countries, The Levant and Middle East were important because of his archaeological interest, but it did not stop there he and Kristin found traveling in Burma fascinating. Later in life the travel became more eclectic, David and Kristin walked to "Barnhill" on the Hebridean Island of Jura where George Orwell wrote "1984".

His last voyage in November 2007 was to French Polynesia including the island of Hiva Oa, in the Marquesas, where Paul Gauguin is at rest.

As a collector, David had extreme talent and interest in New Guinea artefacts, especially from the Sepik River area. One special enjoyment was searching for books when he would see something which might interest a friend and acquired it to be passed on when they met. For me, he found the History of Sydney Hospital from 1811-1911 by J Frederick Watson which I still cherish enormously. Sometimes he would return home with a piece of masonry from a distant shore, always with a tale to tell.

Gregarious seems to be a word designed for David. We will always have in mind superb friendship, especially those wonderful luncheons so ably catered for by Kristin and David. He seemed able to recognise problems in his friends and colleagues, but more than that he would share some of the burden and help ease the distress which they were experiencing. The graduates of 1967 were completely correct in awarding the Robin May Prize for "outstanding leadership and good fellowship".

As Chris Geraghty wrote "They had seen in him the qualities all his friends later came to appreciate; energy, generosity and fierce intellect."

David is survived by Kristin and their son Dominic.

The Dalton Chapel of St Ignatius College, Riverview was overflowing with those attending the Mass of Thanksgiving. His favourite music from "The Mission" (Gabriel's Oboe); Jupiter; and Nimrod were such an appropriate and meaningful selection. As we left there came to mind: "But now, at last his work is ably done./ He is in the nearer presence of the God he served well."

Ross Campbell

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