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Biographical entry Williams, Peter Frederick (1922 - 2009)

AO 1986; MB BS Melbourne 1946; FRCS 1951; FRACS 1953.

22 October 1922
Melbourne, Australia
18 February 2009
Paediatric orthopaedic surgeon


Peter Frederick Williams AO FRACS was educated at Melbourne Grammar and graduated in medicine from Melbourne University in 1946.

He was an intern at the Royal Melbourne Hospital after which he proceeded to the United Kingdom where he obtained his Fellowship and trained in Orthopaedics at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic hospital in Oswestry. It was while at Oswestry that Peter designed the Williams Screw driver, a device designed to lock the screw in to the driver thus freeing up the surgeons hand.

Upon his return to Australia he obtained his Australian Fellowship and held appointments at both the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) and Royal Children's Hospital (RCH).

He became Director of the Department of Orthopaedics at the RCH in 1963 and was involved in the transfer of the hospital from Carlton to its current site, opened in 1963 by Her Majesty the Queen.

Under his leadership the department was to become one of the leading hospitals in Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgery in the English speaking orthopaedic community. As a consequence of his expertise he was invited to participate in training faculties in the USA and was an invited guest to a number of orthopaedic institutions.

He was an outstanding surgical technician. Those fortunate enough to have seen him operate will attest to the deftness of his operating skill and the gentleness with which he handled tissues. There was a paucity of movement; a characteristic of all great surgeons.

Having seen the methods of training in North America, Peter set about developing a program along similar lines to train orthopaedic surgeons in Australia. This was the genesis of the current program so highly regarded by those fortunate enough to have been selected to participate.

As an educator he ran conferences at the RCH to which virtually all trainees in Victoria were privileged to attend. It was to no avail to hide in the back row with the eyes averted, in order to avoid his probing questions. He would fix the trainee with his steely blue eyes and ultimately extract an answer. He did not expect the newcomer to know everything but once taught would be critical if the information was not remembered at a later date.

He ran Workshops where staff members in the department would present "How I Do" various aspects of paediatric orthopaedic surgery to trainees and anyone willing to attend. These evolved in time in to a more formal meeting which was the genesis of what is now the Australian Paediatric Orthopaedics Association.

He developed a Fellowship Program at the RCH which involved post graduate training in orthopaedics for local and overseas trainees. It was a matter of great pride to Peter and to the entire department to see these fellows go on to become eminent in orthopaedics in many other countries.

He was the prime mover in motivating the Department members to contribute to the Text Book of Paediatric Orthopaedics.

Peter Williams was the author of many articles in the orthopaedic literature his major interests being Cerebral Palsy, Arthrogryposis, Dislocation of the Patella and all aspects of paediatric orthopaedics in general.

He was an examiner for the College in Orthopaedics and served in this capacity for a number of years. He was ultimately appointed Chief Sensor of the College.

He became President of the Australian Orthopaedic Association at the time of the Combined Meeting of Orthopaedic Associations of the English Speaking World in London in 1975. He was invited with the other Presidents to a gathering arranged by the Queen Mother patron of the meeting.

He was the Presidential Guest Lecturer at the Scoliosis Research Society meeting in Hong Kong in 1976. He was the Presidential Guest Lecturer at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in 1983. All of these attest to the high regard in which Peter was held by his colleagues not only in Australia but Internationally.

He was recognized for his contribution to Australian when he was awarded an Officer in the Order of Australia in 1986. At a personal level Peter was a great mentor to many of us privileged to have known him. He was a hard task master and expected perfection from all who were involved with him.

He was a private man and it was for many an eye opener to hear of his exploits and interests at his funeral. He was an expert wood turner and carpenter, had a keen interest in motor cars and for many years ran a farm in Red Hill which he was able to shape in to a magnificent establishment "Pirralilla". He was also a yachtsman and was Commodore of the Point Leo Yacht Club for a time. In later years he renewed his acquaintance with golf.

He was very guarded in his philanthropy, anonymously providing financial assistance to a number of projects. He endowed the first chair in Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgery at the Royal Childrens Hospital in Melbourne in 1987.

Peter is survived by his wife Prue, his children Tim, Mitty (Andrea), Susan and Richard and ten grandchildren. Those of us who were his friends will miss the opportunity to call upon him and benefit from his wise counsel.

Bob Dickens

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