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TSANZ tribute for Rob Pierce

Professor Rob Pierce
15.1.1947- 7.2.2009

Professor Robert John Pierce died tragically on February 7th 2009, defending his home at St Andrews, Victoria against the Black Saturday firestorm.

Rob was born to Frank and Catherine (Nell) Pierce in Melbourne on January 15th 1947 and was brought up in Yarraville, Victoria, where he attended the local Christian Brothers College. From there he went on to study Medicine at Melbourne University, graduating in 1970 and completing his house officer years at St Vincent's Hospital. Inspired to enter the field of respiratory medicine by the late Dr Doug Gauld at the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg, he was one of the first in Australia to become proficient in fibreoptic bronchoscopy. Rob was one of a cohort of young respiratory physicians who headed to the Royal Brompton Hospital during the 70's to complete their training. His MD thesis entitled "Estimating lung volumes from chest radiographs and radioisotope scan images," was carried out under the supervision of Professor David Denison and published in 1980. Rob returned to Heidelberg and developed his clinical and research skills working with both the late Dr Alistair Campbell as well as Dr Colin Barter. An excellent clinician and teacher, his inquiring and incisive mind and capacity for hard work led to research publications in the fields of pulmonary physiology, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and more recently, sleep and upper airway mechanics. Overseeing the amalgamation of the Austin and Heidelberg Repatriation Respiratory Units when the two hospitals united in 1995, Rob used this opportunity to further expand the Department's large clinical sleep disorders unit with its associated strong research arm and to establish the Victorian Respiratory Support Service. This Service accepted patients requiring chronic ventilation from the old Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital and grew into the current Service which supports the needs of patients throughout Victoria who require chronic ventilation. A highly successful and well-published researcher, Rob was well known and highly respected throughout national and international sleep and respiratory communities, forging strong collaborations and enduring friendships with colleagues in many different parts of the world. In 2000 he founded the Institute for Breathing and Sleep in order to promote research, education and public advocacy in respiratory and sleep medicine. He was also integral to the development of the newly formed Australian Sleep Trials Network. This year he was successful in receiving major funding through the Victorian Neurotrauma Initiative in order to further the understanding of sleep disorders in patients with quadriplegia.

Rob always maintained his clinical skills and was loved by his patients, many of whom became his friends. His abiding interest in respiratory and sleep health in indigenous Australians was deepened during a recent sabbatical which he spent travelling and working in northern Australia. He could see many unmet needs in the understanding and treatment of common respiratory and sleep health problems in remote aboriginal communities and was actively pursuing an advocacy role as well as developing educational materials to address some of these issues. He was also working actively towards establishing a sustainable respiratory health service in this region.

Rob loved living, walking and camping in the Bush. He enjoyed music and art as well as sailing in his yacht Terra Nova out of Williamstown. He regularly served as Medical Officer on Tall Ships such as the James Craig and Alma Doepel. For someone so prominent in the respiratory and sleep medicine fields, Rob was an extremely humble person, whose door was unfailingly open to patients, students, colleagues and friends. His sphere of influence was wide and stories abound which attest to his laid-back but hands on attitude-to work and life. Always down to earth, he had a laconic sense of humour and a lifelong desire to minimise administrative red tape and get the task done. He inspired and was a role model for generations of research students, scientists and registrars, many of whom are now in senior positions-and all of whom would be proud to have considered him their friend. Rob leaves his wife Jan, their children Chris, Lucy, Nick and Tristan and their families. Taken from us all so suddenly-he will be sadly missed.

Christine McDonald and Peter Holmes

 

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