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Biographical entry Milliken, Thomas William (1925 - 2015)

MB ChB Otago 1948; FRCS 1955; FRCS Edin 1955; FRACS 1961.

23 January 1925
Christchurch, New Zealand
18 November 2015
Plastic and reconstructive surgeon


Tom Milliken was born in Christchurch in 1925 to Thomas, a solicitor, and Winifred Kate. He had two younger sisters, Dawn and Betty. Tom commenced school at Fendalton Open Air School in 1930 and moved to Julius House at Christ's College in 1938. At the age of 16, and as a result of the death of his father, killed at Sid Rezegh in North Africa in 1941, Tom largely assumed the responsibility of looking out for his sisters. At Christ's Tom represented the College at athletics and rugby and was both a house and school prefect. Rugby was his passion and he was destined to take this to a national level.

Tom attended Canterbury University in 1943 completing basic sciences papers. Gaining entry to Otago Medical School in Dunedin he resided at Selwyn College. He continued to play rugby, representing Otago University 1944-46 and gaining his University Blue. He played for the Otago provincial rugby team 1946-47 and was selected for the New Zealand Universities XV in 1946.

In 1948 Tom returned to Christchurch to complete his 6th year of training and secure his MB ChB. He remained there for the next two years as a house surgeon and then, following three months undertaking general practice locums in Christchurch and Kaikoura, Tom sailed for England arriving in May 1951. Prior to leaving for England he attended a ball at the Christchurch Winter Gardens where he met Ray Brownlee, a secretary, noting her to be the "most lovely person" he had ever met. At that time Ray was about to sail to England with her father, J J Brownlee, a Christchurch plastic surgeon. Tom's version of events is that they met again quite by accident in London and the rest is history.

He initially lived at London House in Guilford St while attending a course for the Primary FRCS examination. Casualty and Resident Surgical posts were obtained until he successfully completed the Primary examination July 1952. During 1952-53 he obtained general surgery posts at Whittington Hospital Archway, and West Middlesex Hospital followed by orthopaedic posts at West Middlesex and Fulham Hospitals. He then commenced plastic surgery training and in 1955 was awarded FRCS Edinburgh and England. In 1956 Tom worked briefly in the East Grinstead Plastic Surgery Unit as Clinical assistant. In 1953 Tom and Ray were married in Chelsea. Their first child, Thomas, was born in 1954 and two years later the family of three headed home to New Zealand by sea, Tom working as ship's doctor.

On his return to Christchurch, Tom was appointed Part-Time Visiting Plastic Surgeon at Burwood Hospital, where he joined his father-in-law, J J Brownlee, and he commenced part time private practice, initially having consulting rooms in the Victoria Mansions building and subsequently in Colombo St. The family increased to four with the birth of Peter, Anna and Alexander. Tom obtained his FRACS in 1961. Throughout much of Tom's career the Burwood Plastic Surgery Unit had just three surgeons resulting in a continuing requirement to ensure cover for acute presentations - both traumatic and burns - for an extended regional population. He was a very competent surgeon who excelled in surgery of the cleft lip and palate. In this area of practice he developed a very close working relationship with the oral surgeons and so created a very well run multidisciplinary cleft clinic. Tom retained his appointment at Burwood Hospital until his retirement in 1989, serving as Head of the Plastic Surgical Unit for much of this time.

Tom served on the Committees of the Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Medical Association and the Part-Time Medical Officers Association. He became an RACS Examiner in Plastic Surgery.

Activities outside medicine formed an important part of Tom's life. The outdoors and especially tramping was a true passion. He and Ray purchased a property in Queenstown in the early 70s spending a lot of time tramping and skiing in that area. They loved the peacefulness and serenity of the country at the head of Lake Wakatipu, one of their favourite tramping locations, and their wish is to have their ashes scattered in the Rees Valley. In Christchurch they joined the over 40s tramping club and spent many days exploring the Port Hills above Christchurch. With this club they travelled overseas to places like Canada and Italy.

Tom and Ray were members of St Mary's Church in Merivale and strongly supported the Christchurch Cathedral, where for many years prior to the earthquake Tom was in attendance for several hours each week providing information and guiding visitors. He served as a committee member of the Cathedral Grammar Board of Governors, the Canterbury Winter Sports Club and the Canterbury Automobile Association becoming its President for four years. Tom continued his love of sport with regular and enthusiastic participation in tennis, golf, skiing and tramping.

Tom was a generous and caring man. Up until the time of his death he still took great interest in all his grandchildren and children. He remained mentally sharp and engaging until days before his death. He died peacefully with Ray by his side.

Tom is survived by children Thomas, Peter and Alexander (Anna having died some years previously) and 11 grandchildren. Ray died just three weeks after Tom - they had shared 62 years of married life.

This obituary was prepared by Thomas Milliken and family with assistance from Sally Langley FRACS.

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