Australia

'The most humble man I ever met': Tributes flow for late Dick Tooth

Former Wallaby captain, all-round sportsman, pioneering orthopaedic surgeon and devoted family man, Dick Tooth, has died, aged 90.

Dr Tooth was much revered by his former teammates in both sport and medicine but it was his wife, Marianne, and his children, Robyn, Chris, Liane and Kate, who were at his Hunters Hill bedside on Wednesday evening when he passed away peacefully.

Dick Tooth leaves a 'tremendous legacy', says his friend and fellow surgeon Merv Cross.

Dick Tooth leaves a 'tremendous legacy', says his friend and fellow surgeon Merv Cross.Credit:Fairfax Media

Liane inherited her father's considerable athletics genes, representing Australia in hockey at four consecutive Olympics, winning two gold medals.

Tooth was a founding member of the Australian Knee Society and in an email circulated to members, Dr Merv Cross, paid tribute to his mentor.

“His legacy is tremendous, captain of the Wallabies, single figure golfer, A-grade tennis player,
represented NSW in life saving and squash. He was a Sydney-Hobart sailor as well as an
accomplished pilot. He used his pilot licence to fly to outlying country towns to provide orthopaedic
care,” Cross said.

“He was a past president of the International Society of the knee as well as vice-president of the
Australian Orthopaedic Association.

“He opened a sports clinic at Sydney hospital and performed the first ACL reconstruction in NSW on
a famous rugby league international, Johnny Greaves. As a retired rugby Australian captain he was
the ideal person to understand the physical and psychological problems facing the injured
sportsman.”

Australian soccer great Johnny Warren (left) benefited from Dr Tooth's surgical skills.

Australian soccer great Johnny Warren (left) benefited from Dr Tooth's surgical skills.Credit:Fairfax Media

A 1971 operation on the troublesome knee of Johnny Warren on his 28th birthday allowed the
soccer player to lead the national team into its first World Cup three years later.

Tooth represented the Wallabies 19 times, including 10 Test matches, and captained the team
twice, against the touring All Blacks in 1957. One of rugby union’s enduring mysteries is why Tooth, as incumbent Australian captain, was not selected in the 27-man Wallaby tour of Britain, Ireland and France in 1957.

His omission was inexplicable to many, considering his utility value, having represented Australia as
a five-eighth, centre and fullback.

But, as a scholarship lad from Newcastle Boys’ High where he played rugby league, Tooth gained an
early view of the class-ridden nature of the-then amateur game. When he arrived at Sydney
University, he found GPS boys filled the positions in the First XV and he was chosen in third grade.

Cross, who had a similar experience, being selected in fourth grade, opted early for rugby league,
playing first grade at Souths, Easts and Norths.

He said of his mentor: “As a very junior orthopaedic registrar, I admired his work. He spent time
travelling to USA to visit the world leaders in the developing specialty of orthopaedic sporting
injuries, returning to implement the advances that he experienced. With his help, I gained a fellowship in the United States.

“He was the most humble man I ever met.”

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