Dr Roy Wise was a long standing member of the The S.A. national Society, and an outstanding human being, as this eulogy bears testimony. The publication on our SANS Honours Board is intended to signify our respect for this great man. – A Tribute by Dr. John Strachan
Roy O. Wise – 11/11/1928- 28/3/2018 Eulogy St Thomas Sat 7/4/2018
We are gathered here today to pay tribute to Roy Wise – Surgeon, Athlete, Botanist, Historian, Father, Husband, Colleague & very good friend.
Roy packed into his 89 years & 4 months what would have taken the average person many more years to achieve. He was that kind of man.
He was born in Johannesburg on what we commemorate as Armistice Day- the 11th day of the 11th month 1928. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.Roy once told me that his father was a driver for the late General Smuts. At a young age he was sent oﬀ to boarding school in Potchefstroom- to Potchefstroom Boys high school. His boarding school career coincided with the hostilities of World War 2 & the environment that he found there diﬀered markedly to the “ country club” atmosphere that characterizes the boarding schools of today. Life was hard, but Roy excelled particularly academically where he matriculated with a First Class Matric.
His great love for animals prompted him to choose Vetinerary Science as a career, but the opportunities to study this
were limited. He therefore chose medicine & was accepted into ﬁrst year medicine at Wits.
His arrival at Wits in 1946 coincided with the return of many ex servicemen form the war, & many of them became his classmates. Later a lot of them went into general practice & became loyal friends & supporters. I think particularly of men like Barry Stacey, Tony Venniker, Mike Blanckenberg, Paul Mars & Willy Mukheiber.
After graduating from Wits, Roy moved to Durban to complete his housemanship at Addington Hospital. It was there that he met his beloved wife Val. They were married in
1953, a marriage that lasted 65 years. It was no ordinary union. The demands of a busy surgical practice required the support of an extraordinary woman & Roy would be the ﬁrst to acknowledge the massive contribution & self sacriﬁce that Val made to his own success. She devoted her life to her 2 daughters Candy & Sally & pretty much allowed Roy to pursue & follow his dreams.
On completion of his surgical training under Aubrey Radford & Lawrence Pearson, the 2 leading surgeons in Durban at the time, Roy & Val moved to London where he
managed to secure a job At the Hammersmith hospital in west London. During that time he successfully sat for both the FRCS (England) as well as the FRCS ( Edinburgh). These Royal Fellowships had some signiﬁcance many years later. When Queen Elizabeth visited Durban after the ﬁrst democratic elections, Roy was asked to be on standby should the Queen contract any surgical ailment or condition!
Roy returned to Durban & was immediately invited by Mannie Stein to join him in private practice. They were later joined by Harold Duncan & the 3 of them established a highly reputable surgical partnership that was to dominate surgical practice in Durban for close to 40 years.
Whilst in practice, Roy & Mannie visited Michael de Bakey & Denton Cooley in Houston. They were the foremost vascular surgeons in the world at the time. Mannie who exuded self conﬁdence at the best of times mentioned to Roy on his return that he had been impressed with the Americans but was certain that he could do the operations better back in Durban. And indeed they went ahead & pioneered vascular surgery in Natal performing the ﬁrst aortic aneurysm repairs, aortofemoral bypasses, carotid endarterectomy & peripheral bypass procedures with impressive results. In addition to this they ran the Vascular Surgery service at Addington Hospital before the arrival of John Robbs.
On completing my surgical training I was privileged to join this esteemed practice in 1990. Roy was in his early 60’s & at the very pinnacle of his surgical career. The knowledge & skill he voluntarily & generously imparted to me was enormous. For this I will be eternally grateful.
Almost coinciding with my arrival, something happened in the surgical world which was to shake up the surgical community to its very foundations. A French surgeon from Lyon, Phillipe Mouret performed the world’s ﬁrst Laparoscopic cholecystectomy & “Keyhole surgery “ as the layman knows it was born.
It was the beginning of the laparoscopic revolution in surgery- one could imagine patients literally deserting the rooms of conventional surgeons & crowding into those performing laparoscopic surgery. For most surgeons of Roy’s generation this was to signify the beginning of the end of their surgical careers. Roy would have none of it. He boarded a plane to Scotland, visited Alf Cuscheiri, the most reputable Laparoscopic surgeon in the UK at the time & learnt how to do Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy. Together with our other partner Graham Dawber Roy blazed the early trail of laparoscopic surgery in Durban & I was fortunate to ride the wave with them.
It was this resolve & determination of Roy’s that allowed him to successfully operate well into his seventies!!
Roy wrote in an obituary to Mannie the following & this certainly could apply to himself:
“ The good doctor knows when to operate & to do so decisively, & the very good doctor knows when not to operate & stay his hand”.
Or, as Atul Gawande writes in his book- Complications- A Surgeons Notes On An Imperfect science,
There is a saying about surgeons meant as a reproof: “Sometimes wrong , Never in doubt’ With Roy there was rarely doubt. He had a sharp surgical intellect combined with sublime skills- a rare combination of talents.
When Roy turned 35, by his own admission he smoked 35 cigarettes a day & weighed over 80kg. He did very little exercise & he realized he needed to change his lifestyle. He quit smoking, dropped his weight & took up road running with almost a religious fervor. With his running partner Mike Gerky he was over the following 25 years to complete 21 Comrades marathons. Eleven of these would be silver medals ( that is under 71/2 hrs) & 4 he would complete in under 7 hrs. He won the Comrades in his age category a number of times. When one considers the time he spent at the hospital each week this was an extraordinary achievement.
On 1 occasion he was short on mileage for the week. Val had arranged a dinner party for the Friday evening. Roy called in to say he was delayed in theatre & went oﬀ for a training session at the university track.
You also knew that if you went to the Wises for dinner on a Friday evening Roy would get you out by 10pm so that he could get to bed in preparation for his early morning Saturday long run.
I have been told & I do not know whether it is urban legend, that Roy having completed a Comrades in under 7 hours was relaxing at home & got called to attend to a leaking Abdominal aortic aneurysm. He didn’t turn down the case, went oﬀ & operated & was back home before the stragglers had crossed the ﬁnish line.
It was readily apparent to those of us who knew Roy well that he was quite disagreeable with the idea of parting with hard earned cash.
There were many examples of this but our one trip to Bloemfontein for a Vascular Surgery meeting was an amusing example. Roy & I were oﬀered a lift by the Late Richard Venniker who had recently acquired a new Mercedes. I suggested to Roy that we should split the petrol 3 ways. No Roy insisted, Richard should pay half & we pay the other half, Roy’s logic being that Richard was giving the practice a lift up & the practice would therefore incur half the costs. We were staying At the Holiday Inn & Roy had suggested that we share a room, also in an attempt to reduce our budget. When Igot up to shave the following morning he noticed I was using a shaving gel which he asked if he could try out as this sort of luxury was simply unaﬀordable to him.
Beyond the demands of surgery & running, Roy & Val loved nature. They loved walking in the Drakensberg, & in the early days owned a home at Mbona in the Karkloof. I was given the 4th edition of Roberts, Birds of south Africa as a Christmas present in 1981 & paging through the list of sponsors I noted Roy’s name.
His love of birds & wild life led him on to an even greater passion- the study of trees. He was a keen member of the Dendrological Society & as a Trustee of the Natal Flora Publications Trust was responsible for the publication of 2 valuable books edited by Elsa Pooley:
The Field Guide To Trees Of Natal, Zululand & Transkei published in 1993
& A Field GuideTo Wild FlowersOf KwaZulu Natal & The Eastern Region published in 1998.
Roy also had a keen interest in History , particularly Military History related to the Anglo Boer war & South Africa’s involvement in World War one. He was a regular attendee of meetings of the local Military history Society up until very recently.
It is not possible to do justice to this remarkable man in such a short space of time. However, it would be remiss of me if I did not mention a number of people who considerably eased his pain in the twilight years of his exceptional walk on this planet.
Pam Richardson & Ann Groom. These 2 dedicated women ran the female surgical ward at Entabeni for as long as I was at the hospital . There commitment, dedication & knowledge of surgical care ensured that patients passing through their ward enjoyed a standard of care that was I venture to say hard to improve on anywhere. They contributed greatly to our collective success. When Roy & Val sadly had to make a move to the Caister they would come in on a daily basis to care for their needs. Pam & Ann I know that I speak on behalf of Candy , Sally & us all when I thank you for your unselﬁsh love, kindness & dedication.
Moyra Woodcock. Moyra was employed by the practice when she was 28 years old. She worked there for 50 years. Roy & I were doing an aneurysm repair when the anesthetist Derek Jordaan asked Roy what he considered to be the most important quality in a human being. Loyalty Roy retorted & Moyra On behalf of Roy & all that were privileged to enjoy your humor & hard work, I thank you for your incredible loyalty.
Craig Campbell ( & Bev). Craig joined the practice in the mid 90’s & proved to be a great asset with an incomparable work ethic & a real hunger to learn & ﬂourish as a laparoscopic surgeon. In these last few years Craig has shown great sensitivity & understanding in helping Roy deal with the challenges of departing a surgical career.
On at least 2 occasions Roy sustained serious injury because of his frailty & Craig cared for him while he was in hospital. He provided invaluable assistance to Roy in Val’s last days, making sure she was well cared for & assisting with very important decision making. Craig & Bev we thank you for your kindness & compassion.
Candy, Steve, & Michael. Sally & Andrew. On behalf of us all I would like to extend our heartfelt condolences. Your childhood was never one of Dad being home at 5 every evening. There must have been hours of waiting & self sacriﬁce that I think few people outside the profession truly understand. Our thoughts & sympathy are with you as you treasure the memories of a life well lived.
Roy Oliver Wise – (1928 – 2018)