Sean Sellars – Biography

Written by Professor Sean Sellars

Sean Sellars, who is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town, was the Leon Goldman Professor of Otorhinolaryngology for twenty years at that establishment from 1981 to 2001 and was Head of Department at Groote Schuur Hospital for twenty five years from 1977 to 2001 and at the Red Cross War Memorial Hospital for Children from 1971 to 1983. His main professional commitments over these and earlier years whilst working in these Cape Town hospitals were with the clinical services and the clinical teaching, especially post graduate of local and foreign specialist trainees. His research interests, which were patient based, involved otology, head and neck oncology and the profoundly deaf child. His publications were mainly around these three topics.

His administrative responsibilities were also extensive. He served various roles in many hospital, university, national and international committees, including “inter alia” those of Registrar of The Colleges of Medicine of South Africa and President of The South African Head and Neck Oncology Society.  He lectured widely to local, national and international audiences, including delivery of the Livingstone Memorial Lecture (Oxford 1983), the Semon Lecture (London 1993), the McBride Lecture (Edinburgh, 1995) and the Myers International Lecture (Denver USA 2001). In 1991 he was the Guest of Honour at the British Academic Conference in ORL that was held in Dublin. He is a Member or Honorary Life Member of a number of medical societies, and holds Fellowships of seven Colleges of Medicine or Surgery, including an Honorary Fellowship of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Sean Sellars was born in Blackburn, Lancashire, into a quintessential medical family.  His grandfather, father and four uncles were all medical practitioners. Educated at Ampleforth College and at Trinity College Cambridge, he completed his clinical training at St Mary’s Hospital in London, undertaking internships at that hospital and at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. His introduction to his chosen speciality came later at that latter hospital when he came under the guidance of Messrs Macbeth, Livingstone and Colman, men who strongly influenced his surgical career.  Contact with Oxford was further maintained through registrar and senior registrar appointments at The Royal Berkshire Hospital, where a special interest in otology and the deaf child was fostered by Mr Hunt Williams and Dr Kevin Murphy.

He left England for South Africa in December 1968 to take up the post of lecturer and consultant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.  A chance meeting in 1969 with Professor Adolf Miehlke resulted in clinical fellowships in Germany in 1970 and again in 1974. He took a one year sabbatical in 1999 as a consultant at the Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, and after retirement in 2002 he went back to Ireland for five years as a consultant at University College Hospital in Galway. In 2007 he returned to Cape Town to continue various clinical and teaching commitments at Groote Schuur, Tygerberg and Red Cross hospitals until his final retirement in 2017.

He has had many outside interests, including in the distant past military service in the RAMC attached to 44 Parachute Brigade and active roles as well as a Vice-Presidency with the Belsize Boxing Club in London. He lives in Cape Town with his wife, spending his leisure time travelling, mountain walking and painting.