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Langford and Brand – A Golden Legacy Print E-mail

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1968 was a turbulent year. It was the time of increasing unrest over the Vietnam War in Australia and elsewhere: the Russian invasion of Prague; the student protests in Paris; the assassination of  both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther.
In amongst the vortices, the College of Medical Administrators had its inaugural ceremony in late May. The initial oration was a sign of the times. It was given by Sir Phillip Baxter, then the major advocate for a nuclear-powered Australia.
Those at the ceremony may well have appreciated the relevance of the ongoing Committee of Enquiry into Health Insurance headed by Justice John Nimmo. Nimmo was assisted by an eminent economist, Sir Leslie Melville, and a Melbourne chartered accountant, Norman McIntosh. Among the many who presented to the Committee, two of the most influential were young University of Melbourne academics, John Deeble and Dick Scotton.
Yet the title of the Oration – Medical Administration Present and Future – was somewhat bland. No mention of the past except the fact that there was at last a College and fittingly the ceremony was held in the Great Hall of the College of Surgeons.
Yet the ceremony culminated the years of preparation for the College. Its forerunner, the Medical Superintendents Association of Victoria, had been formed in 1963 with the purpose inter alia “to ensure that the best principles of administration are conjoined to those of medicine for the public good.”  Although the epicentre for the College’s formation may have been Victoria, in the years between 1963 and 1968 the desire for a College had become national.
Sir Abraham Fryberg, the longstanding Director-General of Queensland Health, also addressed the ceremony.  As with many medical administrators he was trained in public health. During World War Two, as a senior medical army officer commanding a Field Hygiene Unit in Tobruk and elsewhere, he developed a moveable fly-proof latrine for the troops.
At this ceremony, he stood alongside Dr William Ernest Langford, another 1928 graduate. Langford had been elected the first College President. He was nicknamed “Sam” after a Canadian-born boxer, Sam Langford, who was also known as the Boston Tar Baby and said to be the greatest boxer never to have won a world title.  As a young boy Dr Langford may have met the boxer.
Queensland born, Sam Langford also had served in World War Two, being in charge of a variety of medical units in the Middle East and then in New Guinea, being Mentioned in Dispatches three times. After the war he went back to work in the Repatriation Department where he had been employed since 1930. He had been appointed Chief Medical Officer in 1954, a post he held until his retirement in 1970. 
Langford, an activist in the pursuit of the College’s formation, had spent most of his professional career in skilfully managing resources, understanding that such resources are always “scarce”, reconciling “demand” with “need” and wrestling with changing budgetary implications. 
One of the younger advocates for a College was Dr Ian Brand, a young Adelaide graduate who briefly had been the Medical superintendent in Port Moresby and had returned in 1963 to become Medical Superintendent at Geelong Hospital.
Like Langford, Brand had been in medical administration for most of his professional life and his search for knowledge was reflected in the number of letters after his name reflecting attainments in management and music. In many ways Brand was a polymath with an eclectic array of interests, including an ability to distinguish one cola from another. He preferred Coca-Cola. Ian Brand bore a considerable degree of responsibility for the development of the College’s educational program, an essential ingredient in the viability of any learned College.
I knew Sam Langford from the time when I was a boy. There is a photo of Sam helping my father clear blackberries from our land where my father would build our house. My father, like Langford, worked in the Repatriation Department. Sam was a shrewd operator much more so than my father who tended to tell public servants what he thought of them if they impeded provision of benefits to the returned soldiers. My father had an implacable belief in helping those that he saw as disenfranchised. The battleground was centred on pension eligibility and my father was invariably on the soldier’s side; Sam was more concerned with the rules, the need to keep a rein on resources, and less concerned with the fact that rationing can often, if wrongly characterised, be presented as discrimination or injustice.
I first met Brand in 1965 when I was a pathology registrar at Geelong Hospital. The medical staff were unused to such a person who talked the language of the accountant. Medicine was almost incidental. My recollection was of a balding bespectacled red-haired guy with a grating voice. However, Brand was a fair, if unconventional, medical manager. I had to front him at least on one occasion for my indiscretions.
When I was wondering later what to do after my stint in the department of medicine, I nearly sent the Professor apoplectic when I said I was interested in social and preventative medicine – the only job available outside academia was in medical administration. I saw medical management more through a population health eyeglass and from the start of my stint at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in the early 1970s was also involved in clinical training.
My regret is that until the last 10 years I spent little time in actual medical administration. How different a scene it was when I returned.
Nevertheless, I did experience the College formative years when there were still multiple ways the College could have ultimately developed, the current space where the College lives is mainly the legacy of Ian Brand.
As for Sam Langford, whenever I see a current medical administrator I cast my mind back to Sam as my medical administrator yardstick to note whether he or she is a recognisable inheritor of the tough bureaucrat, which Sam Langford undoubtedly was.
When those of us who knew him personally have gone, the legacy of Sam Langford will live on in the name of the Annual Oration. How fitting!
Dr John (Jack) Best AO
Last Updated on Friday, 15 September 2017 12:42