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News > Passing of friends > Robert Frater (19460), Robert Gray Medallist, passes away

Robert Frater (19460), Robert Gray Medallist, passes away

Honoring Professor Robert Frater: A Pioneer in Cardiothoracic Surgery

Professor Robert Frater (1946O), died quietly of natural causes on January 29, 2024, preceded by his parents, his brothers, Charles Frater (1958O) and Kenneth Frater (1948O), and his daughter, Phillipa Frater. 

In the chronicles of medical history, certain figures stand out for their remarkable contributions, and Robert Frater is undoubtedly among them.

Born into a family with deep roots in medicine, Robert's upbringing was immersed in the ethos of healthcare, owing to his parents' affiliation with the renowned Mayo Clinic. This early exposure undoubtedly shaped his career trajectory, leading him back to the Mayo Clinic to leave his mark on the field.

Robert Frater attended Bishops from 1937-1946, and was at the College from 1942 to 1946, matriculating with a First Class pass. During his time at Bishops, he excelled both academically and in extracurricular activities, foreshadowing his future success. His leadership roles within the school community hinted at the qualities that would define his professional life.

He was a School Prefect in his final year at College, Head of Ogilvie, a Sergeant Major in the School Cadet Corps, Captain of Tennis, and a member of the First Rugby XV. He was awarded the Archbishop West Jones Scholarship in 1946 and qualified in Medicine at UCT gaining a First Class in Surgery.

However, it was in the realm of medicine that Robert truly made his mark. His tenure at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York saw him spearhead innovative approaches in cardiothoracic surgery, particularly in valve repair techniques. His pioneering use of materials like Gore-Tex showcased his innovative spirit and commitment to improving patient outcomes.

Beyond his work in the United States, Frater's entrepreneurial endeavors in South Africa further solidified his legacy. His founding of Glycar, a company focused on cardiac care, demonstrated his dedication to advancing healthcare on a global scale.

In 2001, he was honored by the Mayo Clinic as a distinguished alumnus.

In 2011, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Free State School of Medicine, and in 2015, an innovated research center, the Robert W M Frater Cardiovascular Research Center, was named in his honor.

Throughout his career, Frater remained committed to education and mentorship, leaving a lasting impact on future generations of medical professionals. His contributions to academia and his role as a mentor underscored his belief in paying it forward.

 He remained a tremendously proud alumnus of the school and was awarded the school’s inaugural Robert Gray Medal for his contributions to cardiothoracic surgery research.   He funded a scholarship to Bishop’s for the education of African students in the hope for a new South Africa.

As we reflect on the life and work of Professor Robert Frater, we recognise his enduring legacy in the field of cardiothoracic surgery. His pioneering spirit and unwavering dedication serve as an inspiration to all those who follow in his footsteps.

His son, Dirk had the following to say about his dad's passing:

At the end, he remained a loving husband, father, and grandfather, a loving uncle, a good, humorous, and generous friend who above all else treated all those he met as equals.

He leaves behind his loving wife, Elaine Frater, and his two sons, Hugh Frater and Dirk Frater. Our sincerest condolences to his family.

[Thank you to Dirk Frater for the following obituary that helped us prepare our obituary: Tribute to Dad - Obituary Robert Frater by son Dirk]

Below is a snippet from an introduction to a keynote lecture done by Robert Frater.  It speaks briefly about his family and training and is testimony to the type of man and clinition that he was.

I: The voice of J.S. Rankin MD (Associate Clinical Professor of Surgery)

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