Surgeon and musician who designed the Sydney Opera House seats passes away at 80.
Renowned physician and talented musician Earl Owen has died in Sydney. Born in 1934 into a family of doctors, as a boy Owen spent a year in hospital as a result of a birth defect, and it was during this time that he developed a passion for medicine and music.
Musically gifted, while he could have become a concert pianist, Owen decided instead to pursue a career as a surgeon. Of this decision, he said: “the thorough surgical training in surgery… followed on from [the] intense piano training to be a concert pianist while schooling”.
Owen was one of the earliest and most enterprising pioneers in the field of microsurgery. He caused considerable controversy after conducting the world’s first successful finger replacement on a child, and was subsequently discharged from the Sydney Children’s Hospital. Later, he co-led the first successful hand transplant, trained the team that completed the first double-hand transplant, and completed the first reverse vasectomy and complete fallopian tube ligature. He was a visiting professor of 87 international universities, and faculty member of Macquarie University.
Paying tribute, Dr Christopher Lekich, Vice President Australasian College of Phlebology wrote: "Having personally known and worked with him in the field of microsurgery for the last eight years I could not say that I've met a finer human being. His life involved great personal sacrifice to advance human endeavour and reduce suffering across the globe through his training doctors all over the world by running over 80 microsurgical workshops over four decades in scores of countries."
Despite his commitment to the medical industry, Owen maintained a passion for music. He lectured in the music department of the University of Sydney and advised all of Australia’s major symphony orchestras. In the 1970s, he established a medical clinic for musicians in Sydney, and was Director of the International Society for the Study of Tension in Performance at the Institute of Performing Arts Medicine in London. Owen's passion for music was known amongst colleagues, who noted that he played music everywhere, be it in the operating theatre, laboratory, office, car or at home.
Owen’s knowledge of the human body was employed in the construction of various medical instruments and surgical furniture. He is also credited for the ergonomic design of the chairs in each of the auditoriums of the Sydney Opera House.
Professor Owen was awarded both an AO and the Legion d’Honneur. Earlier this year he published his memoir Under the Microscope. Professor Owen is survived by his wife Sue, four children and five grandchildren.