I had the great honour and privilege of working with Professor Chris Del Mar AM FAHMS in my first public health job, and was saddened to learn of his death earlier this year.
I’d like to pay tribute to Professor Del Mar, and reflect on my experience working with him.
Professor Del Mar died in late February, aged 72, three years after sustaining a serious spinal injury while surfing near his home on the Gold Coast.
Professor Del Mar was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences in 2015. The Academy described him as “a champion of evidence-based practice and much-loved mentor to many junior doctors and medical students”.
His service to medicine and academic general practice in the sunshine state included the simultaneous roles of Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research), and Dean of Health Sciences and Medicine at Bond University on the Gold Coast. Professor Del Mar started Australia’s first private university medical program in 2005. His wife, Tammy Hoffmann OAM is also a Professor at Bond.
Professor Del Mar was in 2021 named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for “significant service to tertiary education, to health and medical research, and to professional bodies”.
His commitment to “evidence-based health policies was of great benefit to patients, and saw him advocate for greater antibiotic stewardship and support the introduction of respiratory virus research findings into clinical practice,” the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) said.
Our paths crossed some 23 years ago, when I was completing a Graduate Diploma of Public Health at the University of Queensland (UQ), where he was Professor and Head of General Practice.
I was a research assistant on a project to create a literature search service for general practitioners. The Chief Investigators at UQ included Professor Del Mar and Professor Paul Glasziou AO FAHMS.
Deborah Hilton at the UQ campus in 1999. Photo courtesy of the author.
Our goals included testing the feasibility of evidence-based clinical literature services to help answer GPs’ clinical questions, and then assess the GPs’ feedback of these services.
My task was to find and then summarise the results of clinical trials, systematic reviews, and other research. At times this was easy, but at other times it was difficult, and that’s when the professors took over the task of locating and summarising. It was an interesting and challenging role.
What I valued most about working for Professor Del Mar was that in addition to his ability to remember, synthesize, and collate vast amounts of scientific and medical information, he made people like me feel valued for our contributions.
He was also very aware that people had lives outside of work, and if that affected their work performance, he was not judgemental but supportive.
I was very distressed to learn of his surfing injury in 2019, and his passing. He demonstrated much courage and determination after his accident to continue his research work.
I was very honoured and lucky to have met him, and to have worked on one of his projects.
At a memorial service at Bond University, Dr Madeline Duke, who was the Valedictorian of the university’s first medical program cohort, told those gathered that Professor Del Mar was ‘the most wonderful Dean, a kind and nurturing man’.
“I will never forget him bounding up the stairs, and on so many occasions saying ‘Oh Maddy, might you have a second, I would love to know how x, y or z is going’,” Dr Duke recalled. “One of my colleagues put it so well:
“‘Professor Del Mar had the rare gift of always maintaining a great sense of professionalism and authority whilst at the same time being disarmingly approachable, inclusive, so nurturing, super funny, and we always felt like he was invested in us’.”
Deborah Hilton is a PHAA member.