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Joe Brookes was born in Leeds and brought up at Kirkstall House near the abbey. His father was a successful general practitioner in Kirkstall, and his mother was a French governess who came to England at the age of 18. He was educated at Leeds Grammar School and then by the Jesuits at St Michael's College in Headingley.
In the family tradition he went up to Queens' College, Cambridge (1949-52), to read medicine and then St Mary's Hospital (1953-5) in Paddington.
He was a talented hooker and played for the 1st XV at Queens', St Mary's, and Headingley before sustaining a back injury during a scrum collapse. He underwent a laminectomy and fusion in Paddington which brought his student rugby career to a premature end. However, he was lucky enough to obtain digs in the Sir Alexander Fleming public house opposite the medical school, where he secured a favourable rent with the landlord including a quota of real ale.
He was appointed house physician at St Mary's in 1956 and then house surgeon at Ashford Hospital.
He was joined by his younger brother Jean-Pierre at St Mary's before joining his father's general practice in Leeds (1957-9) with his brother-in-law John Gibbons.
He decided against a career in general practice and trained in obstetrics and gynaecology on the Leeds and Bradford rotation. He travelled to Australia in 1963 with family as a “£10 pom” emigrant to take up a consultant post at Warrnambool Base Hospital in Victoria.
He worked from 1963 to 1985 in Warrnambool serving the local population in a geographically large area and for many years ran a singlehanded practice for which he is fondly remembered to this day. He was made an honorary governor of the hospital on leaving Warrnambool.
Joe moved back to England in 1985 and worked in Huntingdon before working for the army at BMH Hanover and Rinteln, until retirement to Cambridgeshire in 1996.
Joe was a proud Yorkshireman with a dry wit, and he was fond of his Cambridge and Mary's roots. He was naturally curious and well-read and had a great interest in literature, fine dress, and British beer. He had little time for self-publicists but was a trusted and true friend to many he met. In later years his health deteriorated, but he bore his last illness with great dignity and died peacefully surrounded by family and friends in Oxford.
He leaves three children—Phillip, Steven, and Sarah—from his first marriage and a daughter, Phoebe, from his second.