Eileen Collins 1952-2009

Eileen Collins ... house calls from Chatswood to Arnhem Land

Dermatology as a career could be regarded as somewhat unadventurous, but it took Eileen Collins to remote Arnhem Land to help patients.

Eileen Maria Collins, who has died of cancer aged 57, was born in Sydney, the second child, and only girl, of four. Her grandfather, Sir Archibald Collins, was the Queen's physician in Australia and president of the British Medical Association in Australia before the Australian Medical Association was formed. Her father, Dr Ian Collins, was head of the NSW branch of the AMA and is still working in his eighties. Her mother, Dr Bobbie Horsley, was a clinical hematologist.

The family attitude to work was brought home to Collins after the birth of her third child, when her mother asked: "Now what are you doing?" She pointed out that she had just had another baby. "Yes, yes," her mother said, "but what are you doing?"

Collins grew up in Northwood, went to SCEGGS Darlinghurst, where she was a prefect, and repeated the HSC at North Sydney Girls High School because she wanted to study medicine. On graduating from Sydney University in 1976, she worked first in pathology, then settled on dermatology.

She started a practice in Chatswood focused on personal care. Once she made a house call to an elderly patient and ended up doing the grocery shopping.

She worked with the Royal Flying Doctor Service out of Forbes and Orange, and with a government Aboriginal health program in Arnhem Land to try to eliminate scabies (a skin disease caused by mites).

For more than 20 years, Collins taught university medical students at Concord Hospital. She was an active member of the Australasian College of Dermatology and the NSW representative on the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners' Board of Censors, and helped with the education and examination of registrars, all with diligence and humour. She was treasurer of the NSW College of Dermatology, oddly perhaps for one who had no interest in finance.

Collins married Paul Dalby in 1981. She loved music, had piano lessons throughout her life, enjoyed time with her friends and family, good food and wine, and was an enthusiastic traveller. Eileen and Paul would research the place they planned to visit - including Columbia, Cuba, Asia and Antarctica - and then explore as many nooks, crannies, buildings, ruins and meals as possible.

Once in Stockholm on a cruise she was one of a group of eight who, after a hearty dinner, were stuck in a lift and had to be rescued by firemen, who said the passengers were "too big". She said it was worth it to meet the good-looking rescuers.

Collins was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour four weeks before her death. She remained brave and positive to the end, taking the crossword to radiotherapy so the doctors would think she was still intelligent. She knew what she faced but did not dwell on the negatives.

She is survived by Paul, children Guy, Tara and Natasha and her father. A son, Patrick, died of sudden infant death syndrome and her mother died in 1996.

Harriet Veitch
By permission of the Sydney Morning Herald