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Cains, Lance Joseph (1915–2014)

by Geoffrey Cains

A high point in the career of Lance Cains, dermatologist, came in the years around 1964 when, together with colleagues including Lewsbe Abbott, John Belisario and Miles Havyatt, he was instrumental in the formation of the College of Dermatologists. At the time, some influential physicians put up considerable opposition to this project, but much hard work on the part of the dermatologists saw their college formed and the inauguration ceremony performed 3 years later. Together with Rex Becke, Lance organised the ceremony which took place in the Great Hall of his beloved Sydney University. Under vice-regal patronage, the ceremony was performed on Monday, 1 May 1967. Lance was strongly committed to the success of the College and served as Honorary Secretary (1968–1972), President Elect (1981– 1983) and President. He also served on a number of College committees and sub-committees.

Lance was born in 1915 and lived his early life in the Sydney harbour-side suburb of Cremorne. He spent much time in his early years roaming the foreshore in this idyllic landscape made famous by Arthur Streeton in his paintings of the area. His early education was at a local private preparatory school oddly known as Tibby’s Prep (it took its name from its founder). From there he earned himself a place at North Sydney Boys’ High, where he undertook his secondary education. It was while he was still at school that he met Enid Forbes, a pretty, clever and vivacious teenager who instantly charmed him and later became his wife. They enjoyed a lifetime marriage and had a son, Geoffrey (born while Lance was serving overseas in the Australian Imperial Force [AIF]) and a daughter, Jennifer.

Lance did well at school and from there went on to be the first member of his family to attend university. The next years spent studying at Sydney University were golden years for Lance. In later times he loved to recall the freedom he experienced at university and the sheer pleasure of learning. He graduated in 1939 and immediately enlisted in the AIF. For reasons that are unclear, he joined 2/11 Australian Infantry Battalion (City of Perth Regiment). As was the way of the times, his war service was never discussed with his family, but documentation shows that he served in the Middle East and then in command of the 6 Field Ambulance in action at Jacquinot Bay, Rabaul. He was mentioned in Dispatches on two occasions. Again, for unclear reasons, he was seconded to the Staff Military College, Duntroon, for six months in 1943.

On discharge from the AIF, Lance joined Dr Graham Crawford in his general medical practice in Cremorne and after a few years working as a general practitioner, he began study for the Diploma of Dermatological Medicine (DDM, Sydney University). Before the establishment of the College, this was the only qualification available for entry into specialist practice in Dermatology. Having achieved his DDM and therefore specialist registration, Lance joined fellow dermatologist, John Rae, in his Sydney Macquarie Street practice. The suite of rooms where the two practiced had previously been occupied by John’s uncle, Sir Norman Paul. They occupied the top floor of a building that offered extensive views across the Botanic Gardens and out to the harbour.

After a few years Lance decided to follow the example of others such as dermatologist Monty Lewis, who were leaving the traditional specialist’s suites of Macquarie Street and establishing practices in the suburbs. Lance chose to work at both St Leonards and Dee Why on the North Shore. His departure from Macquarie Street saw him reluctantly relinquish honorary positions at Sydney Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. He subsequently took up honorary positions at Royal North Shore Hospital and the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord.

Lance continued in this busy private practice for the rest of his working life and ceased work at the age of 73. He was joined for some years in this practice by his son, Geoffrey. In retirement he pursued his interest in reading and travelling. In his later years these activities were frustratingly curtailed by failing eyesight. During his later years Lance renewed his commitment to churchgoing. This brought him comfort in the difficult years of watching his beloved Enid slide into dementia. Increasing infirmity after Enid’s death saw him move from his family home in Roseville to a retirement village and later, to full-time care at a nursing home.

Lance was not an easy man to know. As with many men of his era, particularly those who went away to war, he revealed little about himself or his thoughts to family and friends. He was a dedicated physician with a manner friendly and congenial to his superiors and contemporaries, but he could be disdainful to those younger than himself. For those patients and projects to which he committed his considerable capability, determination and vigour, he was a great contributor.

In September 2014 Lance Joseph Cains died at the age of 99.

Original publication

  • Australasian Journal of Dermatology, vol 56, 2015, p 84

Citation details

Geoffrey Cains, 'Cains, Lance Joseph (1915–2014)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/cains-lance-joseph-20102/text31201, accessed 22 August 2019.

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