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Francis Felix (Frank) Rundle (1910–1993)

by John Carmody

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Professor Felix Rundle

Professor Felix Rundle

Brian Dunlop

Francis Felix Rundle (1910–1993), surgeon and medical educator, was born on 13 April 1910 at Newcastle, New South Wales, third surviving child of New South Wales-born Richard Thomas Rundle, merchant sailor, and his wife Catherine Ellen Ackers, née Lindsay, who had been born at sea. Following secondary education at Newcastle High School, Frank won a university exhibition to the University of Sydney (BSc, 1931; MB, BS, 1933; MD, 1941). A resident of Wesley College, where he was active in intercollegiate sport, he tutored there and at several other university colleges. After winning numerous prizes through his undergraduate years—including the G. S. Caird No. II (1929) and the John Harris (1930) scholarships for anatomy and physiology, the Parkinson prize for pathology (1930), the Norton Manning memorial prize for psychiatry (1932), and the Henry Hinder prize for clinical surgery (1932)—he achieved first-class honours in his final year of medicine and won the university medal. He graduated doctor of medicine with a thesis entitled ‘The Pathology of the Liver in Graves Disease.’

Following graduation Rundle worked as a resident medical officer at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (as house surgeon to (Sir) Harold Robert Dew and house physician to Charles George Lambie). In 1934 he travelled to England where he qualified MRCS, LRCP and FRCS (1935) before embarking on a diversity of clinical and tutoring appointments including at Guy’s Hospital, the Westminster Hospital, and (as assistant director of the surgical professorial unit) at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, as well as several ad hoc ‘lectureships.’ He also undertook a number of courses at professorial fracture clinics in Vienna; that venture indicated an internationalist outlook that was to be a hallmark of his career. During his time in Britain he pursued research, principally on thyroid diseases, winning the Royal College of Surgeons’ Jacksonian prize in 1939 for his essay ‘The Pathology and Treatment of Thyrotoxicosis,’ and being selected as its Hunterian professor (1940–41). On 1 June 1939 at St Philip’s Church of England, Kensington, he married New South Wales-born Peggy Seccombe Browne.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Rundle was attached to the Emergency Medical Service. In 1944 and 1945 he served as a temporary major in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Later promoted to major, he treated air-raid injuries in London and battle casualties in Normandy and undertook research, notably in the use of extensive infiltration anaesthesia in the management of wounds. The recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, he spent much of 1947 and 1948 in the United States of America, undertaking clinical research at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and Stanford Medical Center, California. At a time when few Australian medical graduates—academics or clinicians—worked in the United States, his exposure to the American hospital system set him apart from those trained in Australia and Britain. He returned to England in 1948 as assistant director of the surgical professorial unit at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, but left in 1949 to take up private practice as a thyroid specialist in Sydney (where he was successful, but not always liked by his patients). Appointed to an honorary position at the Royal North Shore Hospital, he later established and ran a unit of clinical investigation there.

Unsurprisingly, at this time Rundle’s mind turned from the routine of private practice to the academic world. To his later regret, he did not apply for a vacant chair at the University of Sydney; (Sir) John Loewenthal was chosen for that position and an intense rivalry developed between them. Rundle’s salvation came with the response of the State government to the recommendation, in 1957, of Sir Keith Murray’s committee on Australian universities, that a second medical faculty should be established in New South Wales. Located in the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the new faculty was launched in 1959 with Rundle as founding professor of surgery and later dean. The machinations preceding his appointment as dean secured his loyalty to the vice-chancellor, Professor (Sir) Philip Baxter, who repaid his faithfulness with unwavering support when, in 1967, Rundle clashed with two professors of physiology, Paul Korner and Ian Darian-Smith. Their dispute was about examination standards. Worried by an apparent increase in the failure rate among third-year medical students, Rundle argued that standards be adjusted to yield a greater pass rate. However, he was overruled by other members of the examiners’ committee, including Korner and Darian-Smith. Subsequently, and in the absence of Korner and Darian-Smith, Rundle convened an executive meeting of the examiners’ committee, which passed a substantial number of the students who had failed. Baxter strongly supported Rundle’s action. Neither man acknowledged the intellectual and reputational loss to the nascent faculty when Korner and Darian-Smith resigned.

Another only partial success was Rundle’s drive for a restructured and integrated medical curriculum in 1974. This was intended to be a five-year undergraduate program followed by a mandatory two-year period as hospital doctors under supervision. The faculty fell into line, but the State government was unwilling to provide the additional funds for the increased staffing that would necessarily be involved. The course was expanded to six years in 1988.

Rundle had retired as dean in 1973, after which he assumed the directorship of a new World Health Organization–sponsored centre for medical education research and development at UNSW focused on postgraduate training of medical and paramedical personnel from South-East Asia and the Pacific. He relinquished that post in mid-1975. In 1984 UNSW conferred on him an honorary doctorate of medicine. Although warmly admired by some senior colleagues, junior colleagues often thought very differently of him; indeed, while some were prepared to trust him, very few made that mistake twice. Suffering from advanced dementia, he died on 17 December 1993 at Vaucluse and was cremated. His wife and two sons survived him. Rundle’s name is associated with a graph that depicts temporal fluctuations in the severity of the ocular pathology in thyroid disease: Rundle’s curve. UNSW holds an indifferent portrait of him by Brian Dunlop.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Bartley, G. B. ‘Rundle and His Curve.’ Archives of Ophthalmology 129 (2011): 356–58
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Brilliant Graduate.’ 10 January 1933, 12
  • Tracy, G. D. ‘Francis Felix Rundle.’ Medical Journal of Australia 161 (1994): 278
  • University of New South Wales Archives. Francis Felix Rundle Papers

Additional Resources

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Citation details

John Carmody, 'Rundle, Francis Felix (Frank) (1910–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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