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Alan Bruce Lilley (1895–1976)

by James Gillespie

This article was published:

Alan Bruce Lilley (1895-1976), hospital administrator, was born on 8 May 1895 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, third child of Victorian-born parents Henry William Lilley, printer, and his wife Lillias, née Bull. The family moved to Subiaco, Perth. Educated at Scotch College, on 11 May 1911 Alan became a junior clerk in the audit branch of the Treasury. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (probably on 11 September 1914) and in 1915 served as a sergeant with the 2nd Australian Field Ambulance in Egypt, at Gallipoli and on Mudros. From October 1916 he was on the Western Front. Commissioned and posted to the 13th Battalion in August 1917, Lieutenant Lilley was seriously wounded in the leg in June 1918 at Vaire Wood, France. He returned to Perth, and to the Treasury; his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 1 April 1919. At the Baptist Church, West Leederville, on 22 November that year he married Mabel Fishburne Reid.

In 1921 Lilley enrolled in medicine at the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1926). After graduating, he worked at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (as a resident medical officer), at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, Melbourne, and as acting-director of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine, Townsville, Queensland, where he extended his bacteriological studies. Lilley headed (from 1928) R.P.A.H.'s bacteriology department in Sydney. He quickly showed his administrative talents, founding and directing the hospital's blood-transfusion service. In 1933 he was appointed chief executive officer and general superintendent. Under Lilley and (Sir) Herbert Schlink, chairman of the board from 1934, R.P.A.H. consolidated its position as the most innovative public hospital in Sydney; by 1943 its number of beds had increased from 330 to 1200. Lilley toured Europe and America in 1938 and North America in 1947, strengthening his faith in the further planning of medical services. Although his colleagues complained that Lilley had 'a certain aloofness which limited intimate friendships' and that he was 'somewhat short of a sense of humour', he worked harmoniously with the domineering Schlink, despite a widening gulf in their views on state intervention.

In 1943 Lilley had chaired the medical survey committee of the Commonwealth Joint Parliamentary Committee on Social Security. He collected data on hospitals and advocated greater central planning of hospital and private health services, with a more direct role for the Commonwealth. The government largely ignored his proposals. Appointed chairman of the Hospitals Commission of New South Wales in 1944, he successfully juggled the pressures imposed by ministers, hospital boards and the changing policies emanating from the Commonwealth. He resigned in 1958 to become the first medical director of the New South Wales State Cancer Council. A fellow (1939) of the American College of Hospital Administrators and a founding fellow (1945) of the Australian Hospital Association, he was appointed C.B.E. in 1959.

Lilley had maintained his military connexions, serving as lieutenant colonel (1929-33) of his university's regiment. After his retirement in 1967, he published Sydney University Regiment (1974). A member of the Australian Club, he enjoyed golf, tennis and photography. He died on 23 July 1976 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, and was cremated; his wife and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1918, 5 (Syd, 1937)
  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the Great War 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • K. Maddox, Schlink of Prince Alfred (Syd, 1978)
  • J. A. Gillespie, The Price of Health (Melb, 1991)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 23 Oct 1976, p 656
  • R.P.A. Magazine, Spring 1976, p 28
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 July 1939, 17, 24 Aug 1944, 1 Jan 1959.

Citation details

James Gillespie, 'Lilley, Alan Bruce (1895–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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