American Surgical Association Transactions

Search Transactions

1933 - 2018

THOMAS P. J. HENNESSY, MD, FRCS, 1933 - 2018

Tom graduated in medicine from University College Dublin in the summer of 1956. Even before graduation he knew that he wanted to be a surgeon. He approached Professor Eoin O'Malley to ask to become his intern. "The job is a hard one with long hours", was the taciturn response. Tom replied, "I'm not afraid of hard work", and got the job. His surgical training took him to various hospitals in Ireland and UK and then two years of research in Dr Owen Wagensteen’s laboratory in Minnessota. Tom then returned to Ireland as lecturer with Professor George Fegan whom he succeeded in 1974 as Chair of Surgery at Trinity College Dublin.

Tom's achievements were substantial. The professorial unit he established at St James's Hospital was a magnet to many young trainee surgeons. His specific interest was in malignant and premalignant conditions of the oesophagus. A landmark study was the six-year clinical trial that he and his team carried out comparing surgery alone for the treatment of oesophageal cancer with surgery plus a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It was a seminal work that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Election to the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland came in recognition of both his competence and contribution to Irish surgery. He subsequently was elected President RCSI in 1994. Very sadly his wife Maura's health deteriorated dramatically and she died after a difficult final illness in 1996. However, fate took a hand in a way that would shape the final chapter of his working life. He had been approached by RCSI and UCD to become the Foundation Dean and Professor of Surgery of their new Medical College in Penang, Malaysia. Despite his difficult personal circumstances he went ahead and applied his energies, leadership and educational skills into the shaping of the new medical school.

He loved Penang, the climate, the "colonial" life and his many friends and colleagues. One evening, by chance, he was eating at a his favourite restaurant when he was invited to join the table of a charming, widowed, Swedish banker, Birgitta Buckholt. Over the course of time their relationship blossomed and they were married in 2001.

He retired in 2004 and his remaining years were lived out very happily with Birgitta, although slightly hampered by poor eyesight. They gave each other a wonderful companionship and travelled the world extensively from their home in Ireland and paticularly to Stockholm and northern Italy.

Tom was immensely proud of his children, who were all successful in their various careers in medicine, nursing, teaching and the law, and his 12 grandchildren. They gave him great solace particularly during his more difficult times as did his strong and abiding Catholic faith.

We, who came after him, owe him a huge debt of gratitude. We will miss you Tom. RIP.