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A tribute to
Bob Graham 

Heart & Soul

When you’re traveling in a Royal motorcade the traffic lights are always green. This random thought suddenly occurred to Professor Bob Graham as he sped along a Sydney street sitting in a darkened car next to Diana, Princess of Wales. Belatedly he realises; It’s not every day you head to the airport to pick up a Princess.

In his 25 years as the founding Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, there would be times that raced by with the speed and excitement of a Royal motorcade. And there’d be other times when the road ahead was unforgiving, marked with stop signs, detours and dead ends.

Princess Diana, The Hon Neville Wran and Prof Bob Graham

In 1996, Princess Diana was the Guest of Honour at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute’s Royal Ball, and Bob was her host. After the extravagant black-tie event, the Princess personally invited Bob and his children to her Double Bay hotel room for a pot of tea. Paparazzi in helicopters whined outside the window, unaware that this would be the last time Her Royal Highness would publicly visit Australia.

A yellowing photo of this rare moment still sits behind Bob’s desk in his office. The dusty frame is competing for space, and the Princess is barely recognizable behind images of former students, colleagues, Nobel Prize-winning-friends and of course, grandchildren. 

Suspended above the photo collection are six timber cupboard doors which conceal heavy textbooks on anatomy, physics, English grammar and non-fiction stories. The little library is like a glimpse inside Bob’s brain – full of knowledge, gravitas and compassion. 

“He really is a walking encyclopedia,” his longtime friend and Institute Board Member John Kean will tell you. “He has a hunger for knowledge well beyond science. I’d say he’s more gifted than the rest of us, mere mortals”. 

The very same word was often used to describe Dr Victor Chang – “gifted”.  

Bob was working in the United States when he was informed of the tragedy. It was a horrible shock. In the early seventies, the pair had briefly worked together at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, where Victor was Bob’s boss. According to Bob, this was “long before Victor was famous”. But even then, there was something unique about the way Victor saw the world and the way he cared for people. 

Other than discussing patients, Bob and Victor had fairly limited interaction. But what they would share in common was the impact they had on people’s everyday lives.

Victor Chang with Harry Windsor


With Victor’s tragic passing, a worldwide search began to select an Executive Director to build a research Institute named after an Australian hero. It was more than just finding someone who could do the job. You had to be worthy of this great honour.    

At the time, Bob had clocked up 17 "stellar" years building an envious career in the United States, working at Harvard Medical School, training under a Nobel Laureate at MIT, before leading a large laboratory at the Cleveland Clinic. On weekends he went heliskiing with friends. Life was undeniably good.  

But the chance to start an institute from scratch back home – well, that was too tempting to turn down...  

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