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Silagy, Christopher Allen (Chris) (1960–2001)

by Michael Kidd, Rowan Doig and Christopher Fairley

While the rest of us slept, Chris Silagy was writing. His prodigious outpouring of medical writing – articles, chapters for books and government reports – was, like his stellar and too-short career as a key international figure in evidence-based medicine, a result of his superhuman drive and determination.

Professor Chris Silagy, who has died aged 41, was born in Melbourne, the son of Hunagrian parents. He went to school at Wesley College where he was a long-distance runner, a superb debater and a high-achieving scholar. In 1978 he enrolled in medicine at the University of Melbourne. His university friends recall that he was renowned for being hopeless at keeping secrets. In fact, this was more about a desire for truth, an endearing quality that would command substantial respect in later life.

He graduated in 1983 with honours in all subjects and became an intern at the Royal Melbourne Hospital before moving to the Royal Children’s Hospital in 1985. He worked as a general practitioner in Eltham in 1986, then in 1987 joined Monash University’s department of community medicine on an academic fellowship under the mentorship of professor Neil Carson AO.

In 1989, in Wesley College chapel, he married Dr Jane Russell. In the same year he received the fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and was appointed senior lecturer in community medicine at Monash. He was also research fellow in social and preventive medicine, completing his PhD in 1992 when he was made a fellow of the faculty of public health medicine of the Royal Australian College of Physicians.

That year he also received the prestigious Sir Robert Menzies memorial Scholarship in Medicine. He went to Oxford University, where he became involved with the Cochrane Collaboration, named in honour of the late Archie Cochrane, a British medical researcher who contributed to the development of epidemiology.

Silagy embraced and developed Cochrane’s philosophy and went on to become a key international figure in the emerging discipline of evidence-based medicine.

He returned to Australia after two years at Oxford to take up his appointment, at the extraordinary age of only 33, as foundation professor of general practice at Flinders University, Adelaide. He brought the discipline of evidence-based medicine with him and in 1994 was funded by the Commonwealth to establish the Australasian Cochrane Centre.

He was passionate in his belief of the need for an evidence-based approach to health care and advocated strongly for change. This was accentuated by his personal need for reliable information after his diagnosis with a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1997.

In 1999 Silagy and his family made their final move back to Melbourne where he had been appointed professor of public health and foundation director of the Monash Institute of Health Services Research. Last year he was appointed to chair the board of the new National Institute of Clinical Studies.

Silagy had an outstanding international research record, especially in the application of clinical epidemiology to clinical practice and health care policy, as well as the prevention of cardio-vascular disease and tobacco control. He also worked as a general practitioner for 13 years and in 1998 received the Rose-Hunt Medal from the RACGP for his exceptional contribution to Australian general practice.

He was involved in many national and international committees and research activities. Importantly he chaired the International Cochrane Collaboration from 1996-98. He was an inspirational teacher and orator and great mentor to many researchers and colleagues who came to rely on his extraordinary wisdom and insight.

Silagy also served the community for almost 20 years through the Scout Association of Australia, holding posts of branch commissioner for Scouts in Victoria and national commissioner for youth program. Among many other community activities, he was a patron of cancer aid.

For the last five years of his life Silagy had a public battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His strength, wisdom and unflagging enthusiasm and drive during these difficult times were an inspiration. He managed to combine all this activity with a strong and devoted commitment to his family. He was immensely proud of the achievements of Jane and his four young sons and often remarked on the strength and wonderful support he received from Jane.

In last year’s Queen’s birthday honours list, at the age of 39, Silagy was made an Office in the Order of Australia (AO) for services to medicine, particularly in the areas of research and education, and in developments in the field of evidence-based medicine, an award of which he was immensely proud.

During the subsequent 18 months, as his body started to fail him but his mind remained razor-sharp, he took on an appropriate mantle as a senior figure in Australian health care.

Silagy is survived by his wife, Jane, his sons, Andrew, 11, Michael, 9, Nicholas, 8, Benjamin, 6, his parents Marian and Les, and his brother, Geoffrey.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 31 December 2001, p 14

Additional Resources

Citation details

Michael Kidd, Rowan Doig and Christopher Fairley, 'Silagy, Christopher Allen (Chris) (1960–2001)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/silagy-christopher-allen-chris-18084/text29661, accessed 17 October 2019.

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