Ellis Abrahams was born in Warrnambool, Victoria, in 1918. His father, William Francis Abrahams, was a schoolmaster and his mother was Annabel Clarinda, née Ellis. Ellis had three sisters. He married Mary Jean Hoy in London on 27 May 1947 while both were studying for their higher degrees. She eventually became a psychiatrist. There were four children of the marriage - Kelvin (engineer), Helen Jane (City Councillor), Bill (Anglican Priest), and Harry (Senior Public Servant).
Ellis was educated at Melbourne High School followed by Melbourne University where he attained his MBBS in 1941. His subsequent career may be summarized as follows: RMO Royal Melbourne Hospital 1941-46, RMO London Chest Hospital England 1947-48, Medical Officer Commonwealth Government Canberra 1949, Director of Tuberculosis, Queensland Department of Health 1950-82.
Ellis was a member of the BMA for the whole of his professional life and in his retirement, and was an active member of the Thoracic Society of Australia and the independent offshoot, the Thoracic Society of Queensland. In 1994 Ellis was honoured by the award of Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) for the major contribution he had made to medical knowledge in the field of control of tuberculosis. Ellis’s involvement with tuberculosis was initiated when chest x-rays as a medical student demonstrated a stable lesion. To his eternal regret (personal communication) he was not accepted by the Armed Forces during the Second World War.
Ellis’ acceptance by his peers, other Fellows and members of the medical profession at all levels was nonpareil and could not be faulted. He was capable of inducing enthusiasm in the efforts of young physicians to cope with the vicissitudes of the medical scene, and he stimulated research with appropriate encouragement. His relationship with Sir Harry Wunderly, the doyen of tuberculosis control and treatment, was excellent. Ellis extended his own personality and enthusiasm within the halls of power and influence and political need with success in gaining support for his determined campaign to expand hospital and clinic facilities for the investigation and treatment of tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases. Ellis' organizational vision enabled him to perfect the mass radiography programme which encompassed the vast area of Queensland and its population with thoroughness and ultimate benefit to the community.
Ellis undertook clinical teaching with élan. In 1980 he delivered the Elkington Oration to the Queensland Society of Health on 'Tuberculosis Control: a review of Queensland experience'. Sir Harry Wunderly (1892-1971), the first Commonwealth Director of Tuberculosis, is honoured by the Wunderly Oration, and it is germane to record that Ellis Abrahams was the Wunderly Orator in Perth in 1982 under the auspices of the Australian Tuberculosis and Chest Association.
Ellis was a contributor of a chapter on Pulmonary Tuberculosis with AM Patel in Volume 3 of 'The Biology of the Mycobacteria'. He also produced four in-depth studies, all related to tuberculin testing and published in Tubercle from 1961 to 1970, and one on BCG Vaccination published in 1991 in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation.
In retirement Dr Emanuel Rathus and Dr Abrahams were medical consultants to the Queensland Coal Board in undertaking a state-wide chest x-ray and spirometry survey of colliery employees in order to develop a Coal Miners’ Health Scheme. This could be considered an appropriate denouement to a lifetime of service.
Ellis was a member of the National Tuberculosis Advisory Council from 1953 and his clinical and administrative reports were exemplars of meticulous analysis and appreciation. His appointment as Director of Tuberculosis gave him an entry as visiting physician to all Queensland Public Hospitals and he travelled extensively in this milieu.
Ellis was a quiet man who enjoyed relaxing at the family seaside apartment at Noosa where sun and sea and sand obliterate cares and tension. In addition he and Mary enjoyed entertaining friends to luncheons suitably refreshed by Ellis’ skilled dispensing of excellent wines. Ellis and Mary found music to be a necessary counterpart to life and they attended performances of the Queensland Orchestra regularly. Otherwise a game of snooker gave him enjoyment and relaxation and dalliance over his orchid collection gave him a hobbyist’s pleasure. Ellis faced his last illness with fortitude and left his surviving family with an appreciation of a life well-spent as husband, father and doyen of professional excellence.
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