My parents: Bobby and Lilian Roberts


As the old saying goes, you don't choose your parents, but – no matter who chose mine for me – I was exceptionally lucky. My parents were wonderful people, loving and kind. They also led long and interesting lives.

Both my parents were born in what's often called the late Edwardian era (so late in fact that the person after whom the era is named, King Edward VII, had in fact died a year or so before either my father or mother was born!), a few years prior to the start of World War I. They lived until the early years of the twenty-first century: both were in their nineties when they died (my mother died five months after her 90th birthday; my father died a few days after he'd turned 94).

My parents' marriage – a second marriage for both of them – lasted more than 60 years, and they lived in Britain, the Netherlands, southern Africa (in South Africa for a total of sixteen years, and in Rhodesia – which is now Zimbabwe – for three years), and Australia, where Tasmania was their home for more than 30 years. The photo of Lilian and Bobby in the top left-hand corner of this page was taken on their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1992.

Their lives weren't always easy. My mother's first husband, an RAF pilot, was killed in April 1938, a mere 29 months after their wedding, leaving my mother widowed with a son (my half-brother, Anthony) who was only 20 months old. Sixty years later, Anthony died aged just 62, and my mother experienced the awful pain that stems from having one's child die before you do.

My father's parents separated in the middle of World War I, when my father was six. My grandfather raised my father's younger brother, while my grandmother had what would now be called sole custody of my father. Life was not easy for a solo parent and son in the years leading up to the Great Crash, but with the aid of choir- and public school-scholarships, my father had a very good education and qualified as a doctor on his 22nd birthday.

During my father's career in medicine (he specialised in anaesthesia – i.e., in what Americans call anesthesiology), his patients included Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, Richard Tauber, and the current King of Holland's aunt, Marijke. He worked in London during the blitz and with Albert Schweitzer in central Africa, he led the largest private anaesthesia practice in Johannesburg, and he headed the anaesthetics department at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

Like many people in the western world who were mothers in the 1940s and 1950s, my mother primarily worked in the home. She was a housewife, and was not embarrassed by that label. She was also artistic, with a flair for design and style.

Even though I am now in my late seventies and, as someone once joked, the patriarch of the Roberts family, I still miss my parents. From my earliest days, they were wonderfully supportive. When I was 15 years old, for example, they not only allowed me – but also even encouraged me – to hitch-hike from Johannesburg to Mt Kilimanjaro. In their old-age they followed my career and my outdoor activities (such as climbing Mt McKinley and doing the Coast to Coast multi-sport race) with enthusiasm. I wasn’t joking when I told people that my parents were my number one fans!

In memory of my parents, this page on my website includes direct links to pages containing the eulogies that my brothers and I gave at their funerals. The pages with the eulogies also include a few of our favourite pictures of Bobby and Lilian; and, hopefully, the eulogies and the pictures will convey something of the flavour of the lives and personalities of two wonderful parents.

On this page there are also separate links to my father’s accounts of (i) working with Dr Albert Schweitzer in Lambarene (in what is now Gabon) in 1957, and (ii) the Tasmanian bush fires of 1967. These accounts by my father are both extracts from his unpublished memoirs.

In 2017, a brief abstract in the Journal of Anesthesia History noted how Bobby’s autobiography “describes fascinating personal events such as swimming in the Rhine with the lady who was to become Boris Johnson's grandmother, and anesthetic experiences as disparate (to say nothing of historically significant) as training and staff work at the Middlesex Hospital before World War II, being a partner with Robert Macintosh and others in the ‘Mayfair Gas Company’ (aka ‘Gas, fight & choke’), surviving London during the‘blitz’ (giving anesthetics all the while), going onto help establish the Dutch and South African Societies, working with Albert Schweitzer in Lambarene, settling in Tasmania to establish anesthetic services there, and finally (for an ‘encore’) returning to Africa before retiring in Australia – some Life!” As a result, I am sure that some of you will find reading parts, or even all, of Bobby Roberts’ Memoirs interesting and rewarding, which is why I’ve now also put up a link on this page of my website to a PDF copy of my father’s full memoirs.