Robert Roaf

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 03 May 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:959
  1. Roger Croston

    Professor Robert Roaf, who has died aged 93, was one of the world's leading spinal surgeons—regarded by the British Orthopaedic Association as one of the subject's greats—and one of the last known two British pre-war Himalayan climbers.

    He came from a distinguished academic family. His paternal grandfather was a Canadian barrister. His father, who served in the army as a medical officer in the Middle East in the first world war, had won a scholarship to Liverpool University, where he was to become professor of physiology. His mother's family can be traced to Edinburgh. Her father was appointed young to the chair of natural history at the newly founded Liverpool University. The Roafs antecedents came from Kent, and one ancestor was a ship's carpenter at the battle of Trafalgar.

    Robert Roaf's early childhood was spent in London, and his memories of the first world war were, “Awful food and air raids when mother would take all five children to bed, thinking it best that if bombed we should all die together. When my father returned in 1919 I didn't know him at all.” Aged 10, Roaf suffered bad pneumonia, leaving him with recurrent asthma, and, applying for life insurance in 1939, he was given a life expectancy of 60.

    Aged 13, he won a scholarship to Winchester from prep school in Swiss Cottage. He found the curriculum in those days, based on classics, very narrow. “To enjoy public school one had to be very good at sport. It was a Spartan life in those ancient cold stone buildings with no amenities.” In 1931 he won a further scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, to study physiology and biochemistry. “The financial crisis that year halved the family income, and the effects on so many were so severe that I doubted the capitalist …

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