Vale: Dr Robert Cook AM

12/11/1928 - 22/08/2020

As a highly accomplished oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Bob Cook (BDSc 1952, MDSc 1958) was a major figure and leader of the specialty nationally and 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.

After moving to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne from Bluff, on the southern coast of New Zealand, Bob was accepted to study dentistry at the University of Melbourne in 1948. He attended both 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, Bob travelled to the United Kingdom for further surgical training at The Eastman Dental Hospital in London, which was the British hub of postgraduate dental education at the time.

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

Eventually Bob restricted his trauma load to Royal Melbourne Hospital 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.

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 United States. 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 the Royal Melbourne Hospital, 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 led 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.

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, he was instrumental in establishing and examining 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 of Melbourne is the establishment of The Robert and Gillian Cook Family Award for enrolled post-graduate students to support research in oral and maxillofacial surgery.

Always a devoted family man, Bob is survived by his wife 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. RIP

Professor David Wiesenfeld,  
Professor Andrew Heggie AM  
(both former trainees with Bob) and  
Mr Hamish Cook, Bob’s eldest son.