Frank Kopocek (MBBS 1959)


Born in 1924, Frank Kopocek’s youth was spent in Oslavny, not far from Brno, in Czechoslovakia. He was educated locally and, being good at maths, nearly became a mining engineer, especially as he worked for 15 months in coal mines from the age of 18. However, when he was 15, the humanity and knowledge of the local doctor attending his grandmother for a stroke impressed him and from then on his fate was sealed.

The Nazi invasion of his country resulted in the closure of the Czech university. The Gestapo were busy and Frank saw their work first-hand, in his own high school and in the dreadful atrocity of Lidice. He was allowed to study medicine, taught in German, however – some work was done in Brno, some in Vienna – and he finished his course in 1948. By then the Nazis had been replaced by the Communists and Frank, facing persecution for his Christian beliefs, was excluded from university.

He decided to disappear, using false papers in the name of Schneider, travelling first to the Russian Zone of Vienna and thence to the French, where he worked for the French occupying authority. A subject of interest to the French Secret Service, British MI5, and the American CIA, he must have been considered okay.

His emigration to Australia involved several days in a DC3 followed by a week in Bonegilla, then a job on the roads using pick and shovel. Later he worked as a wardsman at Gresswell and Hamilton hospitals. To be accepted into the Melbourne medical course he had to sit an examination in English, which he had improved while in Hamilton, and another language (he chose French). His Czech medical degree counted for one year of training.

To earn enough to pay his fees he worked at the cafeteria in University House – a friend from his childhood offered him the job. He graduated in 1959 – a ‘Fabulous Fifty-Niner’.

Frank married while still a student, and spent most of his professional life as a GP in Box Hill where he was also active in the Box Hill Hospital. There were two daughters and a son, the latter unfortunately killed in a road accident in 1968. Failing vision due to macular degeneration led Frank to retire to Monash Gardens, where he died on 30 May 2011. His funeral, conducted partly in Czech, partly in English, was concluded by a violin solo played by a long-time friend – the well-known ‘Goin’ Home’ tune from the slow movement of Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

John Mathew, MBBS 1959