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Remembering an Orthopaedic Legend

Remembering an Orthopaedic Legend

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A message from our Chairman following sad news for the industry this month.

Michael Alexander Reykers Freeman

1931 – 2017

Michael Freeman, Mike, or MARF, was undoubtedly a very influential and inventive man both to the world of Orthopaedics and in every walk of life with which he connected. Starting his orthopaedic career with John Insall while at University Corpus Christie Cambridge, together they brought modern knee replacement into the world. Michael was always a go getter, upsetting the establishment by being cleverer, sharper, witty and bold; he confounded the establishment but nevertheless eventually became the head of all entities of importance in the field. Writing many seminal books and papers he ran with three secretaries who could not keep up at times. His presence at any conference was a delight, by just being in the audience he enlivened it’; standing to ask a question would put fear into the recipient but bring great anticipation of delight to the audience. The first time I saw him in action was at the Royal College of Physicians when, to ask a question he proclaimed (as he ran down the stepped aisle), that he had taken the liberty of placing some slides with the projectionist and would demonstrate his point from the podium, which he then did to the astonishment of the very august audience.

Mike’s inspiration to others was boundless and I count myself immensely fortunate to have crossed his path in 1962 when setting off from workshop apprenticeship at Imperial College where he had set up The Biomechanics Lab with Dr Alan Swanson. This was initially set up to test bone and cartilage with mechanical methodology to better understand the physical properties but which very soon turned to making prototype knee, hip and ankle implants, the earliest TKR, the FS and second generation hip resurfacing which were done by the mid Seventies.

When invited by Imperial to take manufacturing outside the University (nothing commercial here please!), Mike was the inspiration for Bill Day and I to face leaving index-linked pensions and very secure jobs to start Finsbury Instruments from our homes in 1978; we had £10,000 between us and no idea how to run a business. It was only later I learned that Mike had run a restaurant while a student that was a failure! Nevertheless his support for the next three decades of Finsbury and the achievements he went onto over his career were an amazing experience to be nearby and involved with. His enthusiasm, easy pick-up on any subject matter and depth of understanding seemed limitless. He stopped editorship of JBJS after 10 years post-retirement from the NHS on the basis he would be out of touch by then, a point among few that I disagreed with him on as even then he was still way more in touch with orthopaedics than 99.9% of his fellows.

It is sometimes a concern to me as to what else Mike might have taken up if it had not been Orthopaedics, he could have done so many great things what else might he have brought to the world? We are all very lucky he did come to Orthopaedics though, and I understand he knew he wanted to do exactly that from a very early age, another character trait in very few people and requiring great clarity of thought. Mike was first and foremost a man of action, always of the view that a decision right now must be taken. This sometimes got in the way of business and research where he was sharp to point out we engineers were inclined to be like physicians who can never make up their mind and will prevaricate for ever. It was Mike’s oratory ability that inspired some of the thinking behind the Great Debate meeting that Finsbury started. Mike could, and at times did, play the role of debater in old Cambridge tradition where he would put a case for something he did not necessarily believe himself but absolutely convince the listener, he was a loss to the Bar in this regard, he would have been a very useful advocate for the worst and otherwise clearly guilty offenders.

One of the greatest delights was to hear Mike give a speech, he would plan and rehearse with much energy and time, always striving to be clear and precise. He could then give a presentation with superb use of language and without notes. One of the best that I experienced was at the Royal Institution where only top academics and the like get to give a talk which must last exactly one hour with no clocks allowed. I was privileged to be in the audience that evening where he was incredibly erudite, on the subject of Orthopaedics of course, and finished within a few seconds of the hour. 

Mike will be sadly missed but remembered with immense gratitude for a lot more than what he did for Orthopaedics which was immense in itself.

Mike Tuke

(Pictured: Mike Tuke, Professor Freeman and Michael Watson at EFORT 2014)

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