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Vale Graham Cooksley: Darrell Crawford and Barbara Leggett

Tuesday 17, Nov 2020

Graham CooksleyGraham had an illustrious career in internal medicine and was one of the founders of the speciality of hepatology in Australia. He was a graduate of The University of Queensland having been admitted to that institution in 1958 with an open scholarship - meaning that he was in the top 25 performing students in the senior year of high school in Queensland. He worked as an intern and medical registrar at Royal Brisbane Hospital and became a Member, and subsequently Fellow, of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1969. After studying at the Clinical Research Centre, Harrow in the United Kingdom, he returned to Australia and was appointed to the Department of Biochemistry at The University of Queensland.  However, Graham continued to work as a physician becoming increasingly interested in liver disease and in 1981 and 1985, he undertook study periods at the National Institutes of Health where his fascination with viral hepatitis took hold. It is in this field that Graham made his most outstanding contributions translating the emerging knowledge about Hepatitis B and non-A non-B Hepatitis to clinical practice in Australia. He was a co-chief investigator with Lawrie Powell and June Halliday on one of the longest continually-funded NHMRC grants in the country on Iron Metabolism and Liver Disease. Graham - unlikely many – was not seduced by iron and steadfastly held onto his interest in viral hepatitis. We remember his boundless enthusiasm on his return from overseas when the HCV virus was cloned. His predictions about the prevalence of this condition, its impact on hepatology and the need for effective therapies were soon borne out. Graham was thrilled that the 2020 Nobel prize was given for this work – but he always claimed that his friend Harvey Alter should have received the award years ago for his work on Hepatitis B! Indeed, Graham’s real clinical love always remained the complexities of chronic Hepatitis B and he was an important part of the international scientific community advancing the field towards better therapies for this disease which continues to challenge us. His career closed with almost 300 scientific publications, multiple research grants, past membership of numerous consensus panels on viral hepatitis, and previous office-bearer positions for national and international gastroenterological and liver societies.

Many people will remember Graham because of his tremendous intellect – but he was so much more to those who knew him well. He was, quite simply, a gentleman. Many young doctors, nurses and scientists experienced the great joy of the seamless movement from being his trainee to colleague, and from colleague to friend. Graham’s interests outside medicine were wide and varied. He was an eclectic individual – a brilliant artist, an amateur historian, an avid gardener, and even a rifleman of some note in his younger years. Like many with great intellects, time management, however, was not his forte. Busy liver clinics were extended by hours as Graham pondered over viral serology, grainy CT scans and rising alpha fetoproteins. The occasional terse exchange with Lawrie and June about his tardiness for Friday afternoon liver rounds would always be a source of mirth to the research scholars and clinical fellows.

The real love of Graham’s life was not his work, it was his home life with Enid and his family. Graham and Enid were a terrific couple. Their faces were always filled with admiration for each other’s accomplishments and qualities. They loved entertaining friends and colleagues in their garden at Maleny where Graham the arborist would emerge – he would delight in discussing the different trees that he had planted on the property. His son Andrew and his daughter Anna would always appear soon in any conversation with Graham and he was tremendously proud of them and his grandchildren.

Graham’s legacy is substantial. He taught a generation of hepatologists in the nuances of viral hepatitis and liver disease. He taught us that interests outside medicine sustain the soul. And he taught us that fellowship, good humour, humility and grace are the hallmarks of a great man.

Professor Darrell Crawford and Professor Barbara Leggett