Obituary: Sir Ian Fraser

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The Independent Culture
SIR IAN Fraser, former Consultant Surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, was Northern Ireland's best known surgeon. His pioneering work on the battlefields of the Second World War led to the use of penicillin to prevent septicaemia in wounded soldiers.

The son of a Belfast general practitioner, he was educated at Belfast Royal Academical Institution and entered Queen's University Medical School to become one of its most outstanding students, winning numerous undergraduate prizes and medals before graduating with first class honours in 1923.

His early personal ambition was to become a surgeon and in addition to gaining surgical training in Belfast he studied at Guy's and the Middlesex Hospitals in London, at the Hotel Dieu and the Hospital Necker, Paris and the Allgemeines Krankenhaus in Vienna. Having acquired the Surgical Fellowships of the Royal Surgical Colleges in Ireland and England and the Master of Surgery of his Alma Mater in rapid succession, he was appointed to the honorary staff of the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children at the early age of 26.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he volunteered for service in the Royal Army Medical Corps and served initially in West Africa as consultant in charge of the surgical division of a large hospital and later as the surgeon required to co-ordinate the work in four colonies. Subsequently he was called upon by the War Office to take charge of a small experimental research team tasked with the responsibility of undertaking field trials using the then new drug penicillin in war casualties in the forward area of conflict in North Africa. This he agreed to do but with his unambiguous stipulation that he would be allowed to use the antibiotic, which was in very short supply, in the most deserving cases whether they be Allied troops or enemy casualties.

Later he provided vital surgical support during the Allied advance northwards through Italy and Sicily and was awarded the DSO in 1943 for gallantry in the Great Battle of Salerno. He participated in the invasion of Europe on the beaches of Arromanches where he operated using three tables at a time. He was finally posted to Agra in North India, having risen through the ranks from Lieutenant-Colonel to Brigadier.

On demobilisation in 1946 Fraser was appointed to the honorary consultant staff of the Royal Victoria Hospital and resumed paediatric practice in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children to become one of the leading truly general surgeons of his day. Passionately interested in his profession he was always keen to impart his knowledge to others. An outstanding and entertaining teacher with a marvellous facility for clinical demonstrations, he stimulated and inspired generations of medical students and innumerable young doctors. He was extremely kind and considerate, much loved by both his patients and colleagues.

Parallel with his National Health Service commitments Fraser established a large, highly successful private practice. His wide-ranging abilities and charisma were as evident in this realm as in everything else to which he turned his scalpel.

Fraser was much in demand as a speaker at scientific meetings and gave many eponymous lectures, which not only informed but also highly entertained his audiences. His reputation as a superb raconteur was often in evidence as an after-dinner speaker.

Throughout his professional life and even into his Nineties, Fraser continued to publish in the medical press. As with all his writings his personal memoirs - Blood, Sweat and Cheers (1989) and Looking Back (1995) among others - make fascinating reading.

His contribution to the development, success and standing in the Order of St John has been unequalled. He was appointed the first Commissioner of the St John Ambulance Brigade in Northern Ireland in 1932 and Commander in 1935. For outstanding service and commitment to this organisation he was appointed OBE when only 39. He was promoted in turn to Knight of Justice and to Bailiff Grand Cross and subsequently appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St John in l979.

Many honours came his way. His pivotal role in several professional bodies led to high office - President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (1954-1956), President of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland (1958), President of the British Medical Association (1962) and President of the Queen's University Association (1964). Several universities conferred him with honorary degrees. He was knighted for his service to medicine in 1963.

His contributions to his university were highly valued as Chairman of Convocation, as a member of Senate and as a member of the Board of Curators responsible for senior university appointments. His boundless energy also allowed him to contribute significantly to community affairs, notably as Chairman of the Police Authority from 1970 to 1976. Furthermore, he sought to promote and harmonise relationships between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland from the day he took first place in the Fellowship Examination of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1926 until the day of his death.

Fraser had a great love for poetry, music, literature and paintings and was an acknowledged expert and ardent collector of antique furniture and other articles. Most of all he loved his family.

Ian Fraser, surgeon: born Belfast 9 February 1901; Resident Surgical Officer, St Helen's, Lancashire 1926-27; Surgeon, Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children 1927-55, Senior Surgeon 1955-66; Surgeon, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast 1928-55, Senior Surgeon 1955-66; OBE 1940; DSO 1943; Kt 1963; married 1931 Eleanor Mitchell (died 1992; one son, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Belfast 11 May 1999.