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Biographical entry Taylor, Thomas Kinman Fardon (1932 - 2016)

MB BS Sydney 1955; FRCS 1959; FRCS Edin; DPhil Oxford; FRACS.

6 August 1932
Sydney, Australia
4 September 2016
Orthopaedic surgeon and Trauma surgeon


Few if any have had as great an impact on Australian orthopaedic surgery as had Tom Taylor. 'TKFT' was born in Sydney in 1932, the son of Dr Charles and Mrs Dot Taylor of Bondi. In 1941, when invasion by the Japanese appeared possible, Tom's education (on a scholarship at Sydney Grammar School) was interrupted by a prolonged stay with family in Adelong. Tom subsequently studied medicine at the University of Sydney, graduating with honours in 1955 and also being awarded a University Blue for boxing.

Following two years of residency at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Tom took himself to Edinburgh, where he spent a year demonstrating in anatomy and two years as an orthopaedic registrar in the Royal Infirmary and Princess Margaret Rose Hospital, working with J I P James. During that time he obtained fellowships of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of England and Edinburgh. In 1960 he moved to the Radcliffe Infirmary at Oxford. He held a Nuffield Dominions Fellowship in orthopaedic surgery at Oxford for four years, working with Professor J Trueta. He was awarded a DPhil (Oxon) for a thesis on "Some Aspects of Structure, Growth and Degeneration of the Intervertebral Disc", and gave a Hunterian Lecture on this topic to the Royal College of Surgeons. His work involved the then new technique of X-ray crystallography.

In 1964 Tom took up an academic post at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he further developed a lifelong interest and an internationally recognised expertise in the burgeoning field of spinal surgery.

In 1969 Tom was appointed as the Foundation Professor of Orthopaedic and Traumatic Surgery at the University of Sydney. His clinical appointments were at the Royal North Shore Hospital and at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. In this role, Tom had a unique and profound effect on the development of orthopaedic surgery, research and training in Australia. He established the Raymond Purves Orthopaedic Research Laboratories at RNSH, and was an internationally recognised authority on spinal trauma and paediatric spinal pathology. He created the SpineCare Foundation, which cares for children with spinal cord disease or injury, and initiated the schools scoliosis testing program for adolescent girls. Together with the late Murray Maxwell, he was also largely responsible for setting up the AOA registrar training scheme in Sydney. Together with Peter Brooks, he established the Bone and Joint Foundation at the University of Sydney, and subsequently the Institute of Bone and Joint Research. Working extensively with Peter Ghosh, the director of the RPR Laboratories, Tom had a prolific research career, with over 180 peer-reviewed publications, mostly spine-related. These achievements were all the more remarkable given the prevailing largely empirical and often anecdotal approach to orthopaedic surgery. Tom helped to introduce 'evidence-based medicine' to Australian orthopaedics. He was a firm believer in 'classical education,' and amongst his many charitable commitments, he promoted and supported scholarships at his alma mater, Sydney Grammar School, for worthy students from needy families.

Tom's commitment to the AOA was massive. He served as Editorial Secretary for four years, chaired the Federal Training Committee for a similar time, and was the Censor in Chief from 1985 to 1988. He sat on committees too numerous to mention, and was a member of the RACS Court of Examiners for many years. He served on numerous editorial boards, including the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (B), Spine and the Journal of Spinal Disorders.

Tom was a very private person who demanded respect from all. His main clinical interests were in spinal deformity, particularly paediatric, and the treatment of spinal injuries. He was adored by his patients, particularly the children and their families. He treated all equally, with kindness and compassion. In the face of considerable resistance, Tom promoted surgical intervention (where appropriate) for the treatment of spinal injuries which had traditionally been treated non-operatively.

Tom declined formal recognition as a matter of principle. A man of strong opinions, always willingly expressed, and a strong sense of fairness, he never shirked conflict with bureaucracy. In his trademark turned up coat collar he was a formidable presence. His registrar teaching sessions were legendary. The highest standards were demanded, and nobody could hide in the back row. The Friday morning x-ray sessions with his radiology colleague George Chapman were highlights of every registrar's learning experience. Tom nurtured the careers of many young surgeons. Numerous Australian and overseas orthopaedic fellows subspecialised in spinal surgery under Professor Taylor's supervision. He had a particularly strong bond with New Zealand orthopaedics.

Tom's commitment to teaching extended far beyond the outpatient clinic and the operating room. Following revision of the Sydney medical curriculum, Tom despaired of the drop in the standard of anatomy knowledge and was a passionate and effective advocate for the return of detailed anatomy teaching to the Sydney University curriculum. After his 'retirement' in 2001, Tom continued to teach anatomy to registrars, as well as teaching orthopaedics to Rural School undergraduate students in Dubbo. Through a family bequest, the A M Taylor Fund, he promoted junior consultant overseas study fellowships, and more recently, overseas orthopaedic exposure for undergraduates, with the intention of encouraging the best into orthopaedics.

In retirement Tom enjoyed the companionship of his friends at the Australia Club and the Royal Sydney Golf Club. His lighter side was reflected in his quirky book, Crepuscular Golf, an entertaining read for golfers and orthopods alike. (In keeping with Tom's generosity of spirit, 'all proceeds to charity.') He read widely and enjoyed fine food and golf. In recent years, Tom struggled with a severe and debilitating neuropathy. He never complained, and as with the rest of his life, simply 'got on with the task at hand.' Tom is survived by his daughter Faith, his son Michael and five grandchildren.

Listing his career achievements does not begin to describe the wonderful complexity that was Tom Taylor. He was a giant of Australian orthopaedics, and has left an extraordinary legacy. The entire Australian community is the poorer for his passing.

David Sonnabend

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