27 April 2011

The public face of The University of Queensland’s Thanksgiving Service and Body Donor program, Leo Brown, will retire on May 6 after more than 49 years with the same employer.

Mr Brown, of the School of Biomedical Sciences, is a familiar and dignified voice on the radio airwaves each year, answering public queries about body donations and about the UQ Thanksgiving Service.

This year has been no different, with Leo providing thoughtful answers for international Radio Australia audiences on how students from different cultures cope with anatomical training.

Although he has worked in the same building for all his tenure at UQ, Mr Brown’s reach has spanned generations of medical, science and allied health professionals studying anatomy.

He said the University was a family community and had been part of his extended family.

“I have been privileged to make friends with people in all walks of life,” he said.

“It has been particularly gratifying to see students move through their study programs to make their mark.

“I also have medical professionals come up to me to say their parents had been through the program, and that they also wished to donate their bodies to assist future generations, which is a wonderful, altruistic gift.”

The University of Queensland has been receiving body donations since 1927.

Since that time, more than 50,000 health sciences students, including 10,000 Queensland medical graduates, as well as surgical registrars and practising surgeons, nurses, ambulance and police, fire and emergency services officers have benefited in teaching and learning activities.

The study of anatomy includes surgical skills development and medical research to investigate issues that continue to perplex medical science.

Donated bodies helped to advance medical and scientific knowledge to promote health and alleviate suffering, Mr Brown said.

Since 1992 the University has held an annual Thanksgiving Service, an opportunity for staff and students to express appreciation for the generosity of people who donate their bodies to the University for use in teaching and research.

The service was the first of its kind in Australia or New Zealand, and has been widely copied.

It was initiated by a committee chaired by Dr Walter Wood of the then Department of Anatomy, with Leo Brown succeeding as chairman in 2000.

Raised on a Rosewood dairy farm, Leo joined UQ straight after completing Junior (Year 10) at Ipswich Christian Brothers College.

“My dad said: ‘What could be more secure than The University of Queensland?’,” he said.

“It has been so secure I’ve stayed here my whole working life.”

He commenced at age 15 as a laboratory attendant in the Anatomy practical room.

“I’d never seen a dead body before then,” he said.

Within a year he learned the skills of embalming bodies, and also showed slides in lectures, worked in the dissection room, became a research animal attendant, and assisted in preparation of anatomical teaching, surgery and museum specimens.

He was a photographer, making slides for lectures, photographing specimens, and even filming dolphin behaviour at sea. His career included taking photographs and assisting in Dr Walter Wood’s project to record, retrieve and relocate Aboriginal remains at the Broadbeach burial grounds.

Mr Brown’s career progression included becoming department manager in 1990, and he retires as Manager of Corporate and Academic Services in the School of Biomedical Sciences.

His duties include administration, student undergraduate and postgraduate examinations, administration of research grants and the body donor program.

He will be succeeded as Manager by Dr Shannon Armstrong, formerly Principal Scientific Officer, Gross Anatomy Facility.

Mr Brown is Past President of the Australasian Institute of Anatomical Sciences (he was president 2007-2010), an association of more than 100 anatomy laboratory managers and bequest program coordinators in Australia and New Zealand.

He said his progression in his Army career paralleled his progression in the University and both complemented each other.

An Army Reservist for 35 years, he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2000. Subsequently he was appointed an Honorary Colonel of Australian Army Cadets in south Queensland, and still officiates at passing out parades and other ceremonies.

He has been president of the Australian Army Water Transport Association (Qld Branch) for five years, whose members include those working on amphibious boats and landing barges during World War II.

Mr Brown also chairs the Ethos Committee of Toc H Australia (Queensland branch), part of an international Christian movement whose members seek to ease the burden of others through acts of service.

“We provide support to the elderly and youth in need visiting nursing homes, organising concerts, scrapbooking and leadership programs,” he said.

“We also organise the first Anzac Day service at the Shrine of Remembrance at 12.01am – people think the Dawn service is the first, but actually it’s the Toc H service.

“The Toc H service has been held continuously for the past 64 years.”

Retirement is likely to be busy for Leo and Barbara with travel, their daughter’s wedding in December, his involvement in a number of other community organisations, and answering community requests to be a guest speaker and assist in staff training for grief counselling.

The Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences, Professor Wally Thomas, said Mr Brown had
touched the lives of many people for the better.

“Leo is part of the fabric of this School and he will be deeply missed by his colleagues and many friends; he is a gentleman of the highest standing and I wish him a long and healthy retirement,” Professor Thomas said.

UQ Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Keniger thanked Mr Brown for his faithful service and significant contributions to the University and the community.

“The care and compassion shown by Leo and his colleagues in the School of Biomedical Sciences is very reassuring for potential donors and their families on this most sensitive of topics,” he said.

“The annual Thanksgiving Service exemplifies the best traditions of the University and for that I especially thank Leo and wish him the very best for his well deserved retirement from his long-serving career at UQ.”

Media: Leo Brown, telephone 07 3365 2515 or Jan King 0413 601 248