Lasting legacy as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon

Lasting legacy as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon

Robert Malcolm Cook AM, MDSc. (Melb), FDSRCS, FRACDS

November 12, 1928-August 22, 2020

As a highly accomplished oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Bob Cook was a major figure and leader of the specialty nationally and subsequently, internationally. He was highly respected as a teacher and mentor to many trainees and junior surgeons.

Bob served as president of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons from 1981-1983. Elected as the first Australian president of the International Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons from 1992 to 1995, he highlighted Australia in the international arena and brought international innovations to our country. His service to the profession was recognised with the award of Member of the Order of Australia in 1989.

Robert (Bob) Cook was born in Bluff, on the southern coast of New Zealand in 1928 to Edward (Ted) and Jessie Cook. In 1936, the family moved to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne where his father was appointed general manager of the Commercial Bank of Australia.


He attended Camberwell High School before completing his secondary education at Scotch College from 1943 until 1947. An energetic and active student, he participated in cricket, football and athletics where, as an only child, he could thrive in the camaraderie of a team environment.

Bob was accepted to study dentistry at the University of Melbourne in 1948 where he attended Mildura and Melbourne campuses and in later years was a resident of Ormond College graduating in 1952.

After serving as the first resident dental officer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1953, he travelled to the United Kingdom for further surgical training at the Eastman Dental Hospital in London, at the time the British hub of postgraduate dental education. Subsequently at the Royal Infirmary in Bolton and was awarded the FDSRCS (Fellow Dental Surgery, Royal College of Surgeons) by examination before returning to Australia.

When Bob completed the MDSc. (Melb) in oral surgery, he was appointed as “oral surgeon” to four Melbourne public hospitals, Royal Melbourne, Western General, Prince Henry’s and Preston and Northcote Community Hospital for which he provided on-call services for facial trauma.

Robert Cook the surgeon

Robert Cook the surgeon

Many of these calls were the result of motor vehicle accidents because seatbelts were not common at the time and drivers and passengers were often propelled through the windscreen during an accident which caused severe facial injuries.

Eventually, Bob restricted his trauma load to Royal Melbourne where he became head of unit in 1971, a position he held until 1988. In this post he supervised the training of a generation of oral and maxillofacial surgeons in Victoria and attracted trainees from all over Australia to come to Melbourne and learn from him.

Through his international contacts he helped several young Australian surgeons to obtain subspecialty fellowships in the UK, the US and Europe

Bob was an innovative surgeon who, advanced the care and correction of patients with both acquired and developmental facial deformities. In 1964, following a study visit to Hugo Obwegeser’s Unit in Zurich, he performed the first mandibular osteotomy (reconstruction of the lower jaw to correct a severe bite and facial deformity) in Australia, several years before these procedures were adopted in the US. This early pioneering work set the scene for the rapidly developing field of orthognathic (corrective jaw) surgery, in collaboration with orthodontists.

He was also integral to the development of the multi-disciplinary model of care for head and neck cancer patients at Royal Melbourne, that combined the expertise of general, ear nose and throat, plastic and oral and maxillofacial surgeons.

Bob was a highly energetic, enthusiastic and thoughtful practitioner and was regarded as a skilful, quick surgeon who lead by example. As observed by many of his colleagues, he had a steel trap memory for detail, recalling names of those he met, often only fleetingly. When junior staff hoped they had successfully buried some oversight or error, Bob would unexpectedly pounce with evidence at a later stage, keeping all on their toes. He was the consummate political representative for oral and maxillofacial surgery in the surgical world and highly respected by other medical specialty groups.

As president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Dental Association in 1964 he actively participated in building a relationship between the profession and government through committee work. Always a team player, with others, he was instrumental in establishing and examining in the specialty fellowship in oral and maxillofacial surgery, within the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons.

At the University of Melbourne, he taught and examined at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. He supported the development of the MDSc in OMS and assisted in guiding the university processes to adopt the FRACDS(OMS) as a national standard. His lasting legacy at the university is the establishment of the Robert and Gillian Cook Family Award for enrolled postgraduate students to support research in oral and maxillofacial surgery.

Bob’s contribution to Australia extended beyond the surgical world. He served as surgeon lieutenant commander and consultant surgeon to the Royal Australian Navy and was an active member of Rotary, the Melbourne Club, Royal South Yarra Tennis Club and Flinders and Metropolitan golf clubs.

With his wife Gillian, for almost 60 years, he maintained an active social and vigorous lifestyle. At their farm in Flinders overlooking Bass Strait, they conducted a successful simmental cattle-breeding program and won numerous awards at the annual Royal Melbourne Show. They both skied with their international friends well into their mid-80s, in between everything else Bob was also an accomplished sailor and scuba diver.

Always a devoted family man, Bob is survived by Gillian, children Hamish, Alistair, Matthew, Kirsten and nine grandchildren. His broadly rounded life of service and commitment was well-lived. He will be remembered fondly by his family, friends and colleagues.

Compiled by Professor David Wiesenfeld, Professor Andrew Heggie AM, both former trainees, and Hamish Cook, his eldest son.

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