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Biographical entry Masterton, John Potter (1928 - 2015)

MB ChB Glasgow 1950; DObst RCOG 1952; FRCS 1960; FRACS 1970.

20 May 1928
17 October 2015
General surgeon


John Masterton epitomised the term "canny Scot" and also adopted the Aussie characteristic of giving everyone "a fair go". The Royal Australasian College of surgeons has indeed been fortunate that John chose to spend the last 52 years of his working life since 1963 here in Melbourne.

The College would say 52 years because John never stopped working and contributing to the College. Most of his contributions were pro-bono. This year he continued to chair the Rowan Nicks Committee, and was an active member of the International Committee and represented it on the RACS Foundation Board. He attended our Annual Scientific Congress in Perth and participated in both the International and Surgical History programs. To those sections he gave many fine papers over the years to the benefit and enjoyment of so many colleagues.

He may have practised in Melbourne but his influence was widespread. He convened 10 RACS Annual Scientific Congresses from 1992, each attended by over 1000 surgeons with many prominent international and national guest speakers. He chaired the Rowan Nicks Committee from 2002, a committee that included, until Rowan's death, its named benefactor, and who John loyally supported and kept informed. Much was achieved by the Rowan Nicks scholars on return to their home countries. This was clearly demonstrated in a paper, published last year on an evaluation of the program. John argued and advocated strongly for a Rowan Nicks lecture, introduced in 2012, and that the Rowan Nicks lecturer should be a Rowan Nicks scholar whenever possible. This has been achieved in the last two years and John would have been proud to hear the inaugural 1991-92 scholar, (now Professor) Godfrey Muguti from Zimbabwe, give his lecture in Brisbane next May.

Since 1991, over 60 international scholars from more than 20 countries have been awarded a Rowan Nicks Scholarship or Fellowship to undertake clinical attachments in hospitals across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and India. John took a personal interest in every scholarship recipient, not only during their scholarship attachment but after their return to their home countries. He spoke personally with the host supervisor of each scholar to convey the individual's objectives and personal and cultural needs. He implemented a system to appoint a mentor to each scholar, independent of the College and the supervisor, to broaden their support network in the host country.

His academic career was built on a solid surgical foundation but also on publications relating to Arctic expeditions and survival in cold climates based on the British North Greenland Expedition of 1952-54. He then worked with Hugh Dudley whose appointment to the Foundation chair at Monash University resulted in John coming to Melbourne in 1963. Later he published widely on general and gastrointestinal surgery and then on the management of burns.

During his career he worked for some of the great names in surgery, and contributed in many ways as a loyal, supportive deputy to their prowess - Hugh Dudley and ESR Hughes are two of the best examples.

John was also loyal to those he worked with and to those he trained. He was renowned for his patient and nurturing teaching style with medical students and surgical trainees at the Alfred and Cabrini Hospitals. His expertise in the treatment and management of burns at the Alfred Hospital was the stimulus to establish the Victorian Burns Unit, and he subsequently became its first Director, a position he held for 28 years.

Originally a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, he was awarded the RACS Fellowship in 1970. He was honoured earlier this year with the Sir Louis Barnett medal, one of the College's highest awards. In 1991 he was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for contributions to burns management and the Australian National Antarctic Expeditions.

John was a devoted husband to his wife Angela, and father to their four children, Neil, Fiona, Claire and Andrew. He won the Herald Sun's Father of the Year award in 1999.

I was privileged to have known and worked with John Masterton on College activities. I shared not only his Scottish heritage, but also his love of surgical history and passion for international development. I am sorry we will not enjoy his presence in person but I believe through his life, its achievements, his enduring spirit, and our abiding memories he will share in College life long into the future.

David Watters

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