Dr Nobby Elvin, founding General Superintendent of the Canberra Hospital, has died at the age of 91. A man of great courage, humour, talent and integrity, he will be much missed.
Born in Grimsby, UK in 1928, Norman Anthony Elvin was the third of six children of Kate Elvin, a milliner, and Ernest Elvin, a transport worker. Norman's name, unusual height, and knobbly knees contributed to the moniker 'Nobby', which stuck with him the rest of his life.
Winning entry to Wintringham Secondary School in Grimsby, Nobby made his way easily, finding much of it 'boring', except for the presence of the lively redheaded Elizabeth (Betty) Inches. They later married in 1950 during their university years. It was a partnership that lasted for 68 years.
After completing army service, Nobby was awarded a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Durham, graduating in 1954. Betty had completed her BA and started teaching while Nobby completed his qualifications and began practising as a GP in northern England.
Nobby's lifelong desire to discover what was 'just around the corner' in books or bushwalking expanded considerably in 1958 when Nobby accepted a medical appointment at the Mooroopna Base Hospital in Victoria. They arrived in mid-summer 1959 with their first two redheaded children.
Nobby strode happily into Australian life and community, driving across the countryside in the family Austin, bushwalking and discovering local vintners. Thriving on multiple challenges, he became Medical Superintendent at the Hospital, enjoying his role in local developments.
Every day, Nobby walked and thought deeply about the world. At age 84 he was striding in the Snowy Mountains and until he was 90 he made daily 5km assays around Canberra.
Driven by the variety in medical administration and its potential for change, Nobby won the role of Clinical Superintendent at the Canberra Community Hospital in 1964. The family moved to the shores of Lake Burley Griffin next to the Hospital, and took up swimming, sailing and canoeing. Nobby was central to encouraging high-calibre medical practitioners to Canberra to service the fast-growing capital, and he focused on developing a strong camaraderie in the medical profession - long raucous monthly dinners were part of the prescription.
Within months, Nobby had joined the Canberra Alpine Club. Those who skied and walked with him enjoyed his enthusiasm for wilderness, but became wary of the mantra 'just around the corner.' Nobby's legs were always longer than everyone else's, and his companions wondered how such a clever man could get 'mislaid' so easily.
Nobby was also instrumental in encouraging medical and ancillary staff to build their own ski club, which became the RASCALS Club on Lake Jindabyne in the late 60s.
In 1970, Nobby was loaned to the Darwin Hospital for some interim administration. Nobby and Betty and their full mob of 5 children made the trip north for 3 months because, he said, it 'seemed very interesting.'
The idea of 'interesting' propelled Nobby. Returning from Darwin, he became the General Superintendent and led the development of the Woden Valley Hospital (now Canberra Hospital) when it was commissioned in 1971. He relished the variety that the work provided; he was as familiar with the challenges of the boiler room as of the operating theatres and regular wards.
He successfully practised his belief in consultative management. Less satisfying were the battles raging in the health sector in the 70s between the advocates of public and private health; Nobby remained passionately committed to the former.
Seeking other ways to influence the health sector, Nobby was a visiting fellow at the University of NSW, and Regional Coordinator of the Capital Territory Health Commission. In 1980, he was appointed Administrator of the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where the 'Elvin style' was welcomed.
A health crisis in the mid-80s forced a return to Canberra, where Betty resumed her teaching at the Canberra Girls Grammar. Once recovered, Nobby became the Director of South Coast Hospitals in the Bega Valley, near bushland he had owned since 1970 and called 'Noblot Grange', where he had spent many active days building sheds and fences and writing bad poetry. During his decades in medical administration, Nobby never lost his engagement or enthusiasm about the practice of medicine itself. In his 70s, he returned to practice, relishing the challenge of learning his way around the new machines that had become part of his old profession.
But Nobby had long despaired about the growing, untended crises in climate and public health, and the machines seemed to be winning. He retired to his outdoor adventuring, his woodworking tools, and a late-life discovery of the difficult art of cooking.
Every day, Nobby walked and thought deeply about the world. At age 84 he was striding in the Snowy Mountains and until he was 90 he made daily 5km assays around Canberra. He kept getting mislaid, kept reading omnivorously. He had 11 books when he left Grimsby and relinquished over 10,000 by the time he started reducing his worldly footprint.
When Betty died in 2018, he was bereft. He is survived by all five children and their families, and will be sorely missed.