Ken has left a memorable legacy as clinical educator and mentor to his students, residents and registrars. He also contributed to the education of surgical and operating theatre nurses, theatre technicians and orderlies.
The second son of schoolteachers Leonard and Marion Millar, Ken grew up in a variety of Victorian rural towns before the family settled in Hampton. Holidays were spent at Murgheboloc, west of Geelong, where his mother’s family, the Amiets, had established a vineyard in the 1850s after emigrating from the Swiss region of Neuchatel. Ken’s preferred memories of boyhood were these days spent on the farm with his uncles and aunt, and cousins Mary and Jeanette. As a teenager, he would regularly escape Melbourne by riding a massively geared single speed bicycle to ‘Murghe’ to work as a farm hand, to trap or shoot rabbits, and to fish the Barwon. In the war years, a car load of rabbits could be sold at the Victoria Market as cheap meat for inner Melbourne workers and a useful income supplement for a young student at Melbourne University.
Ken proved academically able and advanced by two years to matriculate at the age of 16 from University High School. He entered the medical course at the University of Melbourne, boarding at Ormond College and a member of the Rowing and Hockey Clubs. Lifetime friendships were established, with his room-mate Mick Morris (Morris’ Wines) and with his medical student colleagues who shared responsibility for pranks such as dying the Yarra River green in support of the Ormond rowing crew, and providing a fireworks display from the Ormond clocktower as a finale to a period of using the tower as a secret meeting room.
After graduating, Ken and his friend, Derek Gundry, acted as doctors for racing events at Albert Park and Philip Island. The lifelong passion that emerged was not for car racing or cars, but for motoring and the long distance travel it enabled. Ken’s vehicles were always practical, and never complete without camping gear and a fishing rod in the back.
Whilst working in general practice in 1953, Ken met Joan Glen, an expatriate New Zealander accountant who was working as an air hostess – Ken’s idea of a romantic gift apparently included a pair of dead rabbits left on Joan’s doorstep. Ken and Joan were married in February 1955 and spent their honeymoon in the Eastern Victorian bush in a small caravan. Their first child, Ian, was born in November 1955, followed by David in 1958.
Ken had meanwhile decided to pursue a career in surgery and so took his wife and young son to England in 1956 to spend two years training in London and at Bury St.Edmunds in Suffolk. Free travel was possible as ship’s doctor on a small freighter and the family returned to live in Moorabbin in 1958, with Ken initially working as an ‘Honorary’ at the Prince Henry Hospital in South Melbourne, then joining the staff of the Repatriation Hospital, Heidelberg.
‘The Repat’ was Ken’s professional home for the rest of his working life, as he became one of the first full time salaried surgeons in Victoria and subsequently, Chief of Surgery. His surgical career commenced in the days when a General Surgeon was truly a general surgeon, with the need to perform cranial burr holes, vascular repairs, Moores prostheses for neck of femur fractures and the like, in addition to anything involving the neck, chest or abdomen. In later years, he specialised more in upper and lower GI surgery but retained a broad range of skills that were used again after retirement when he undertook locum and aid agency work, in various locations including Vanuatu, Nauru and Port Moresby.
Ken sometimes expressed regret in retirement that he had not published more, but has left a memorable legacy as clinical educator and mentor to his students, residents and registrars. He also contributed to the education of surgical and operating theatre nurses, theatre technicians and orderlies. He provided many years of service to the Royal Australiasian College of Surgeons as an educator and examiner and, in 2006, was awarded the ANZAC medal for his lifetime of service to veterans’ health.
His retirement years initially allowed travel, golf, tennis and and more time in the acre of South Eltham garden he had built by hard labour from the subdivided cow paddock thae family bought in 1964. He became carer for Joan as her Parkinson’s disease progressed, until her passing in 2008. He contributed to the local community as a board member for the local Community Health Centre and will be remembered by friends and neighbours as the gentle, generous and quietly humourous giver of jams, pickles and sauces from his garden.
His plans for further adventures were curtailed by the diagnosis of a glioblstoma multiforme in early 2013 and he died peacefully at home on 27 August 2013.
He is survived by his sons Ian and David, daughters-in-law Margaret and Kirstyn, and grandchildren Alison, James and Andrew.