Dr Geoffrey Burgess


It is with a great sense of sadness that we announce the death of Dr Geoff Burgess, who died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage following a fall while on holiday at the family cottage on West Lake on Nelson Island in September.

Geoff was born and raised in Australia as the only son of parents who were both prominent physicians, and he was brought up in the old style, with emphasis on formality and impeccable manners.

He received his early education at the King’s School in Sydney, one of Australia’s most prestigious private boarding school for boys, where he was subjected to the usual discipline associated with such institutions, received a very broad education, and developed a deep sense of loyalty to the Crown and to what was then part of the British Empire.

Quite early on, in his preliminary years at school, he developed an almost overwhelming passion for music, which was to last all his life. It also became evident that he possessed considerable talent, to the extent that on leaving school he had to make the difficult choice of either, like his parents, pursuing a career in medicine, or continuing his musical studies in the hopes of becoming a concert pianist. In the end, perhaps under parental influence, he chose medicine.

He attended the medical school of the University of Sydney and graduated in 1954. After 3 years of postgraduate training in Australia, like many of his colleagues at the time, he traveled to the UK for further training, where he spent 7 years. He eventually decided to specialize in orthopaedics, was appointed to positions under some of the leading orthopaedic surgeons of the day, including the great Sir Reginald Watson Jones, with whom Geoff shared a special affinity as both played the piano and both enjoyed a “drop of the hops” of an evening!

He had an exceptional training in the specialty of orthopaedics and was uniquely qualified in that he was one of the few surgeons in Canada to be admitted as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Canada, and Australia. In addition, following the completion of his training at Oswestry, where he first met his close friend and associate Dr Norman Gelpke, Geoff was selected to write the highly prestigious and somewhat academic degree MCh (master of surgery) from the University of Liverpool. He not only passed but further distinguished himself by being awarded the coveted Gold Medal, which was only very rarely awarded to candidates for exceptional excellence.

Geoff came to Canada in 1964, and following 4 years of practice in Hamilton, Ontario, moved to North Vancouver where he established a consulting practice in association with Dr Norman Gelpke. Together, with Dr Les Bartlett, they were responsible for laying the foundations of a very busy and highly regarded orthopaedic department at Lions Gate Hospital.

In 1987 he retired from active surgical practice and accepted a position as a consultant in orthopaedics at the Workers’ Compensation Board in Van­couver, where he established a reputation for his diagnostic acumen, a remarkably wide knowledge of medicine, and his well-written and detailed reports. He finally retired in 1997.

Memories of Geoff include a formal evening, not long after his arrival on the North Shore, to return his friends’ hospitality and to celebrate Beethoven’s bicentennial; he invited the entire medical staff and their spouses to a black tie “Evening with Beethoven,” for which he rented the Centennial Theatre, gave a superb recital, and served everyone champagne!

He was not only a fine classical pianist but also possessed perfect pitch and could play anything by ear. He was in much demand socially for, apart from his ebullient personality, his musical talents were a great asset to any party. He would sit at the piano to accompany himself, and with his beer mug never too far away, in his rich Australian baritone, he would belt out such old Australian favourites as “Waltzing Matilda,” “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” and, as the evening wore on, by popular request, his famous rendition of “A Much Tattooed Lady(ee).” He was blessed with a wonderful sense of timing and was a most polished entertainer.

Other interests included family time at their cottage, sailing, golf, and bridge. He always had a keen interest in politics, was a member of the Conservative party, and was also a staunch supporter of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in West Vancouver.

He was an overseas member of the Royal Sydney Golf Club, an active member of the Seymour Golf and Country Club, and a member of the Probus Club of the North Shore (Vancouver).

He is survived by his devoted wife, Lois (Dr Lois Burgess) of 34 years, by his two daughters, Sian and Kim, by his former marriage, six grand­children, of whom he was immensely proud, and his four stepsons, Kent, Lyle, Cameron, and Blair Crawford, to whom he was an exemplary model as a stepfather. Geoff was a very devoted family man, and we would like to extend our sincerest condolences to his wife, Lois, and his very close-knit family.

He was the kindest of men, a good friend, and a much respected colleague. He will be greatly missed.

—Guy Winch, MBChB
West Vancouver
—Norman Gelpke, MBBS
North Vancouver

Guy Winch, MBChB, Norman Gelpke, MBBS,. Dr Geoffrey Burgess. BCMJ, Vol. 50, No. 10, December, 2008, Page(s) 575 - Obituaries.

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