William P Hederman

An Appreciation


Billy Hederman, who died on December 30th, 2016, was one of the most accomplished, admired and popular Irish surgeons of the second half of the 20th century. He was the sixth consecutive generation of William Hedermans and a third-generation doctor. His father, a general practitioner, was on the staff of Limerick County Hospital in Croom. His mother was Ethel Hederman (née Hannigan), a keen horsewoman herself.

Born on February 10th, 1928, he was educated at the Christian Brothers School, Charleville, and Glenstal Abbey, a 25-mile bicycle ride away. He claimed he could ride a horse before he could walk. In Croom it was said that one could hunt five days a week without a horsebox, riding to daily meets. And Billy did.

He went seamlessly through the six-year medical course at UCD, graduating with honours in 1951. Following two years at the Mater hospital, Dublin, he went to London to work with England’s most colourful surgeon, Alfred Dickson Wright, who in his own phrase operated on everything, “from brains to bunions”.

Billy returned to the Mater and was appointed consultant surgeon in 1958.

Cardiac surgery was just beginning and Prof Eoin O’Malley asked Billy to take a year out to go to Denver, Colorado, to learn the techniques of open-heart surgery under hypothermia from Henry Swan, a pioneer of the method. This was a difficult ask as he was building up a private practice. With typical loyalty and good grace he went, and Swan became a life-long friend.

He moved on to vascular surgery and again showed his impeccable technique. “Get it right first and you won’t be worrying about it when you are trying to get some sleep tonight” was his mantra.

He enjoyed teaching and was loved by trainees, who found him easy to work with because they knew exactly what was expected of them.

Distinctions followed. He was a highly successful president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland from 1990 to 1992 and then president of the Vascular Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He was made an honorary fellow of the Edinburgh, Glasgow and South African surgical colleges. The wider profession at home put him on the Medical Council and An Bord Altranais.

He had an easy, open manner and unfailing courtesy. There was a huge generosity of spirit with incredible sustained energy. He hunted, scuba-dived and sailed dinghies and yachts. He was a pioneering windsurfer in Ireland. He skied into his 80s. He was a first-class lecturer, public speaker and raconteur.

In his own words the best thing he did in his life was to marry Carmencita Cruess Callaghan in 1962. Here was a stylish, highly educated lady who was to show admirable altruism and practical patriotism by being elected firstly alderman of the City of Dublin and then in the city’s millennium year, lord mayor. Billy was proud and supportive.

He was happiest in the thronged family holiday home at Dolanstown near Ballyconneely in Connemara. There the couple entertained all the time, and the repairs to the dry stone walls, and everything else that needed it, was done by Billy.

He was a man of deep and abiding faith and was for many years a minister of the Eucharist at his local church.

He is survived by his wife Carmencita, sister Ethel Kelly, children Lucy, Linda, Wendy, William and Simon, seven grandchildren, on whom he doted, as well as a wide circle of friends.

It can truthfully be said that he had hardly an enemy in the world. This can happen even in Ireland. But then Billy Hederman was a truly remarkable man. –