TRIBUTES have been made to a Colchester surgeon who was “ahead of his time” with treatments he helped develop for breast cancer and bowel disease.

Douglas Millar was born in 1929. War played quite a significant role in his early life, with his father, grandfather, and future father-in-law all Naval surgeons.

Witnessing bombings and doodlebugs in London, Douglas later led the first British hockey team to tour post-war Germany, seeing first-hand the devastation of the war.

He served in the latter stages of the Korean war as sole medic for the 250 plus crew of the destroyer HMS Defender, patrolling the Korean West coast, and being seconded on fully armed combat boarding parties around the region.

Gazette: Marriage - Douglas Millar and his wife Sally on their wedding day in 1960Marriage - Douglas Millar and his wife Sally on their wedding day in 1960 (Image: Family)

Having qualified from St George’s in 1951, Douglas returned there after his National Service and in 1958 gained Fellowships of the Royal College of Surgeons of both London and Edinburgh.

In 1960, Douglas married Sally, the youngest ever ward sister St George’s, and later in Colchester a St Helena Hospice nurse and a Samaritan for years. She pre-deceased him in August 2023. 

He moved to Colchester in 1967 to take up the vacant Consultant general surgeon position, one of only four general surgeons covering all emergency and elective general surgery in the area.

Fellow general surgeon Andrew May said Douglas was a “very impressive and likeable person” who was a “brave” surgeon in the sense he would take on anything that was needed to be done, always focused on how best to help the patient.

Gazette: Love - Douglas and Sally in 2011Love - Douglas and Sally in 2011 (Image: Family)

Douglas “rose to the challenge” of stopping a widely used but damaging method of radiotherapy to the bowel. He created an operation which “needed a stoma”, but which dramatically improved outcomes. He filmed, published, and spoke about it in the UK and in Australia and gradually the practice stopped.

Andrew said that Douglas’ generation of surgeons were also trained to regard a full mastectomy as the only operation for breast cancer, but that he was “ahead of his time”, persuading the establishment, including Colchester colleagues, that segmental excision with correct radiotherapy would be better for many patients.

Gazette: Exceptional - Son Malcolm said Douglas Millar was an exceptional father, seen here with his grandsons in 2001Exceptional - Son Malcolm said Douglas Millar was an exceptional father, seen here with his grandsons in 2001 (Image: Family)

Douglas helped 130 in this new way, avoiding the disfiguring, psychologically disturbing, commonplace radical surgery, while still recognising that some would still need the more radical approach.

Douglas was a president of the Colchester Medical Society, of the leading bowel cancer St Mark’s Hospital Association, and of the Royal Society of Medicine’s colorectal section. He was an expert witness on medical tribunals for another five years after his retirement in 1992.

Son Malcolm said Douglas was “an exceptional father: competitive, compassionate, intelligent and great fun” and said that even in his late 80s, with an ongoing love for sport and the outdoors, Douglas would regularly play golf and take his grandchildren sailing.