In Remembrance of Dr. J. Bradley Aust

David Skidmore, OBE, MA, MD, FRCS, Consultant Surgeon and Surgical Oncologist, London, UK

David Skidmore, OBE

"He who would valiant be 'gainst all disaster, Let him in constancy follow the Master".

In 1963 as a final year medical student in the UK, I spent the summer as an exchange student in Minneapolis. Dick Varco, Walt Lillehei and Lyle French were in their heyday. Brad was one of the Senior Residents and the other was the late Don McQuarry. My Cambridge and Birmingham, UK education had been brilliant but it was not until I reached the USA that I realised what vistas could be opened up in medicine by almost limitless financial support at Federal level.

There is no doubt that Brad recognised my ambition to be a class surgeon. Enthusiasm and dynamism in an aspirant trainee stimulates us all. From day one he involved me in everything that he could offer. I scooped it up and returned to the UK determined to follow the lessons about honesty with patients that I had seen.

What had taken this surgical Master to this level of competence in his mid thirties?

At the age of 16 he left wartime New York, and Connie, and travelled across the continent to enrol in the US Navy falsifying his age. He had two years in the Pacific War, but the virtue of that training was that, coming from a modest family, a grateful nation paid their young warriors' way through university and medical school. Like my British trainers who had seen the physical and mental inhumanity of war, Brad from his experience in the Pacific and later in Korea thrust this understanding and knowledge at all of his students who, like all the other members of the Brad Aust Society, became lifelong and grateful friends. We have to remember that although we teach surgery in civilian hospitals the great lessons, antibiotics, transfusion, burns management and anaesthesia, are learnt on the battlefield.

Surgery cannot be a committee decision. "Don't think, do the experiment" said John Hunter, the father of British surgery. "Action this day" said Winston Churchill. Never wait and see, look and see and carry with the decision to operate the uncomfortable responsibility in a world where lawyers and politicians try to best guess retrospectively what we have to plan with incomplete evidence on a daily basis. How does all this experience hang together for us - still an exclusive band of brothers (and sisters) in a changing world? It is obvious that Brad in Texas and nationally understood without equivocation what was entailed. Honesty, hard work by day and night and unremitting attention to detail were the hallmarks of this small giant.

Connie was the Queen pin this rumbustious life, maintaining a calm centre in San Antonio while Brad built a medical school, treated patients, flew to meetings nationally and internationally and graced the American College as a Regent.

He was always a most patriotic American, reflecting on his European ancestral background but understandably grateful for all that the nation had shown him. His self confidence energised respected colleagues and was the hallmark of the man that we honour.

Though a respected academic he was not bookish. Tennis, shooting, cycling, exploring, photographing, communicating - these were the traits which endeared him to all of those who are proud to have received his friendship.

Connie and Brad spent time with us in the UK, in Germany and in Spain. Brad had always done his homework, and the latest restaurant guide was in his knapsack so that we were never at risk of going hungry!

Tough and objective in the face of the reality of the tumour and surgery that he had to confront, I kept abreast of events after his first operation. I rang Connie six weeks after the operation and asked after him. "He's not here" she said, "He's gone hunting in Montana". That, in mid November.

As surgeons, we know better than anyone in society the realities that accompany the end of life. We all hope that we will face them bravely and with equanimity. In the life hereafter we are confident that Brad will sit at the high table in Valhalla and I imagine that I can hear him offering (as a new boy) to take on the responsibility of being wine steward! At the going down of the Sun and in the morning we will remember him.

March 2010

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