Robert Vines was born in Armidale, New South Wales, the son of a Presbyterian clergyman. His childhood schooling took place in various country centres in outback New South Wales, graduating from Dubbo High School where he was school captain and Dux of the year. He obtained an exhibition to the University of Sydney, and a scholarship to St Andrew’s College, graduating with honours in 1943. After a twelve months’ residency at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, he enlisted in the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps, 1944-1947, and served in Bougainville. Following discharge from the Army he obtained further training, gradually moving into paediatric medicine.
In 1950 he came to England and was house officer to Reginald Lightwood (q.v.) at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and no doubt this association kindled his interest in growth and hormone disorders. On return to Australia in 1952 he was appointed physician to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, and practised consultant medicine there until illness forced his resignation in January 1986. In 1965 Robert Vines journeyed to Baltimore, USA, and furthered his endocrine knowledge under the great Lawson Wilkins, undoubtedly the doyen of modern paediatric medicine. Vines, in his turn, was the father of this discipline in Australia and was instrumental in the development of the Australian human pituitary programme, with the first child being treated with extracted growth hormone in 1963. His contributions to the development of growth hormone and other hormone therapy in Australia have been enormous, and done on a honorary basis. He was chairman of the Human Pituitary Advisory Committee for seven years, and served for many more on the growth hormone subcommittee. He was the founding president of the Australasian Paediatric Endocrine Group, and a director of the Diabetes Youth Foundation.
Robert’s family life was a happy one. He married Lorraine Halse Rogers in 1948, the daughter of Percival Halse Rogers, Justice of Supreme Court of New South Wales and one time chancellor of the University of Sydney, and they had four children with whom he had an excellent rapport.
Robert Vines was a man whose energies led him into many other pursuits. He enjoyed the challenge of learning French and Italian, both of which he spoke with enthusiasm to the consternation of native French and Italian speakers. His love of exercise and the outdoors was seen in his sailing, sailboarding, skiing and bushwalking, all of which he did until forced to stop by illness. A man of ready wit and a love for the English language, he proved to be a wise counsellor in many disputes.
Robert faced the multiple challenges of his terminal illness with great courage, arriving back at work after performing impossible feats, such as climbing Ayers Rock, within weeks of major surgery. When diplopia developed as a consequence of his illness, he wore an eyepatch and even with his piratical appearance his patients continued to come in increasing numbers. A literary man of impeccable integrity, having an encyclopaedic knowledge of medicine, he is best remembered as a quiet achiever who never sought the limelight, but despite that has been honoured by having a research fellowship and an annual oration named after him.