Robert (Bob) Britten-Jones’ life is one that warrants reflection and certainly celebration because of its multi facets and positive impact on so many.
People in his company could sense they were in the presence of a great man, a strong and gifted individual, yet a person who had a very natural humility about him. That rare combination drew people to him and contributed to his success as a surgeon, husband, father, grandfather and friend.
He had impeccable manners, from another era, not simply because he was taught them in the households in which he spent the bulk of his first 32 years, but because he had a genuine respect for people.
He was a very positive person. That made him good company.
He enjoyed his life.
The son of Thomas Britten-Jones and Adeline Lewis, whose family were successful pastoralists, Bob would talk fondly of his early years at Comonella – the family home on Prospect Rd, now Blackfriars School. He’d ride his horse, Trixie, and later, his Malvern Star bicycle down Prospect Rd in the 1930s towards the then open fields of outer Prospect and beyond.
The only male at an all nuns, all girls school (St Dominic’s in North Adelaide) for his junior primary schooling, he caught the tram on his own into the city and out to Rostrevor from grade 3 and in 1940, at age 12, he took the train to Melbourne to commence his studies and board at Xavier College, continuing a family tradition of Jesuit education.
With a mindset that was to remain with him right up until the very end, Bob didn’t see himself as being shunted off to boarding school. Rather, he considered himself fortunate to be getting a high quality education which brought about a life long connection with the Jesuits, built resilience, paved the way for a successful academic and working career and gave rise to a connection with Melbourne that led to his greatest achievement.
But life as a boarder in war-time Melbourne was tough and travelling on his own back and forth from Melbourne as a young boy was quite a change to the privileged, even pampered, life he’d led at Comonella where he was doted on by his two aunts, Lena and Olive, following the tragic early death of his mother, Adeline, when he was only six months old.
By the time he went off to Xavier, life had normalised with his father remarrying and building what became a magnificent family starting with Ian then Bunny, Alison, Patricia, Alan and Bill.
In his younger years Bob took an active role in the management of his maternal family’s sheep stations but his career aspirations lay in medicine and he was Dux of his final year in 1951. He spent three years working and training in London under the tutelage of two of the world’s leading surgeons and then set up his own surgical practice alongside his father in the Liberal Club building on North Tce. He went on to have an illustrious medical career including being Head of Unit at the RAH for many years, and was a pioneer in the use of laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery in South Australia.
In 1960 Bob travelled to Melbourne for a friend’s wedding and while there attended the St Vincent’s Hospital annual ball where he met his future wife Lucille Jost, a physiotherapist. It was love at first sight and three months later they were betrothed in what was to become the greatest achievement in a life littered with achievements.
Bob was very good in a crisis. The combination of a cool head, intellect and a positive demeanour meant he was particularly adept at dealing with difficult situations. Many trainee and younger surgeons sought his counsel and he was generous with his time for people he could see were committed, but who might benefit from some assistance or guidance.
He often said to his children that from those to whom much was given, much was expected. This was a central tenet of his Christian values. He was comfortable in the presence of high achievers, but he was a very fair person. He knew that most people had not been dealt the hand he had, so beyond his deep commitment to his family, he gave much of his time – very much supported by Lucille – to bodies like St John Ambulance, the Knights of Malta, Meals on Wheels, his local church, St Ignatius’ College, Calvary Hospital and the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
While he was a religious man and spent a lifetime involved with the Church, he was never sanctimonious or overly pious. Although firm in his own convictions he was always respectful of other differing views and he was firmly aligned with the liberal/tolerant wing within the Catholic Church. For Bob Christianity aligned naturally with his innate kindness and respect for others.
Bob loved playing tennis, was a determined sailor and a very good rower, winning both pairs and fours in his final year at Xavier and also rowing for Adelaide University, but he rarely spoke of his achievements, either in sport or medicine.
He was a wonderful husband to Lucille, a great father to Mark, Christine, Peter and Tony, a loving grandfather to 12 grandchildren, a godfather to no less than eight with a respect for all of them – and so many things to so many other people.
At his 90th party, Bob was asked to make a wish. He stopped and looked at his son Peter and said “son, I only wish one thing and that is when I am gone someone looks after your mother as well as she has looked after me’.
During the months preceding his death, Bob continued to be cared for by Lucille with a tenderness that can only be described as truly moving. His final sentence was to say to Lucille ‘I love you’.
Taken from the eulogies delivered by Bob’s sons Tony, Mark and Peter.Jump to next article