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Biographical entry Hipwell, Geoffrey Carl (1931 - 2009)

MB BS Sydney; FRCS 1969; FRACS.

26 August 1931
2 September 2009


In 1969, Geoff Carl Hipwell returned from his postgraduate ophthalmology training in London. He was truly a breath of fresh air in ophthalmology in Sydney in that era, as very few ophthalmic surgeons had a Fellowship from any of the royal surgical colleges at that time. Geoff soon commenced work at Royal North Shore (RNS), and rapidly and inevitably became Senior Surgeon. In all of that, he was a mentor and teacher in a fashion that was almost unique in those days.

Geoff was always thoughtful about advances in ophthalmology, especially in relation to Neuro-ophthalmology, Strabismus and Orbital surgery. He was also at the forefront of, and highly skilled in, the huge advances in cataract and glaucoma surgery. Indeed, the current operation for cataract has become the most common operation of any surgical procedure in the world, and is certainly the most successful, notably in terms of safety, quality of life, and outcomes.

Geoff taught innumerable Ophthalmologists and Neurologists both the basics of and the advances in Neuro-ophthalmology. In 1976, he gave a series of Saturday morning lectures on Neuro-ophthalmology at RNS. The lectures were attended by large numbers from both specialties.

Geoff's mentoring, teaching and generosity extended to great lengths. The author, and a colleague, Mr Tony King FRACS, were invited for a surf, lunch and a tutorial at Geoff's Christmas-holiday cottage at Whale Beach in 1974. Naturally, Geoff's incredibly supportive wife Brenda and his three very young daughters, Debbie, Nikki and Kate, were there. Following the surf and the lunch, he and long-time friend and colleague Medduma Kappagoda gave us a tutorial lasting three hours in Ophthalmic Physiology.

Some of the obituaries one reads document amazing deeds over long periods. Geoff is certainly worthy of the documentation of these events and more. However, a more personal approach, achieved by citing the thoughts of a very few of the many he helped, might be equally robust.

Professor Jonathan Ell (Neurology, Neuro-ophthalmology and Neuro-otology) - "Geoff instilled in me an intense interest in Ophthalmology while I was a medical student. He was an extraordinarily kind, generous and charming man."

Professor Michael Halmagyi (Neurology, Neuro-ophthalmology and Neuro-otology) - "Geoff broke down the barriers between Ophthalmology, Neurology and Neurosurgery which existed in the 1970s."

Mr James Smith (Paediatric Ophthalmology) - "Considering Geoff's stature, he was a humble man, and gave a lot to those who may least have been able by themselves to attain it. This was particularly to the doctors he helped and mentored."

Dr Stella Alexander (Anaesthetics) - "Geoff would teach us with intensity, but he did it from the perspective of a fellow traveller."

Mr Tony King (Ophthalmology) - "From my Junior Resident year, 1972 onwards, Geoff was my friend, mentor and motivator. He was an inspirational teacher."

Dr Douglas Pettinger (Ophthalmology) - "Geoff had an amazingly mature approach to patient management. He understood patients well, put them at their ease, and they all liked him. He himself was patient beyond imagining."

It can be seen from some of this that Geoff had a remarkable effect on the thinking of the Neurologists and Ophthalmologists at the time, and in the decades to follow. He advocated that the eye and visual system were a distinct but integral part of the body, and that the eye, the body and the brain were all intimately related. He maintained that Ophthalmologists should not be limited by seeing medicine only from the "battlements of the sclera". He was appalled when the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists seceded from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

Geoff remains a colleague and friend who was liked and loved. He taught selflessly and passionately, and was for many the epitome of the new breed of Ophthalmologist. For those who wish to read more, the Remembering Geoff Hipwell website provides a further glimpse into the life of this remarkable surgeon.

Ian C Francis

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