Datuk Dr Gopal Sreenevasan was a trailblazer in the true sense: he was one of Australia's first Colombo Plan Scholars and also pioneered urology in Malaysia.
Even as early as his student days, Dr Sreenevasan was a global pioneer for the University of Adelaide.
`Sreeny', as he was affectionately known, died earlier this year aged 87 and was regarded as Malaysia's `Father of Urology'.
He graduated from the University of Adelaide in Medicine in 1952, and was believed to be one of the first Colombo Plan scholars to graduate from an Australian university.
Developed in the years immediately after World War Two, the Colombo Plan gave thousands of students like Sreeny from less-developed countries such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Singapore, the opportunity to study in countries with more developed education systems such as Australia, Canada and the UK.
These students were then able to return to their home countries, which benefited from their new-found skills and knowledge, while also helping Australia engage better with its Asian neighbours.
Sreeny's medical career was nearly over before it began.
His time as a student in Australia began in 1947, under financing from his father. He travelled by boat to Perth to complete his first year of a Science degree at the University of Western Australia, and then, in 1948, he entered second-year Medicine at the University of Adelaide, residing at St Mark's College.
Just prior to undertaking fifth-year exams in October 1951, he received word that his father had unexpectedly died in Malaysia, necessitating an immediate trip home.
"I remember, I got the news on a Sunday - I didn't know what to do," he told Australian Education International in 2008.
"I went to see the Master of St Mark's, Bob Lewis, who was incredibly kind. He went to the house of the immigration officer to sort out my visa. Meanwhile, his wife packed my bags for me and I flew home."
Due to financial difficulties associated with settling his father's estate, Sreeny had to remain in Malaysia and faced the prospect of being unable to return in time to properly complete his studies.
He applied - and was accepted - for re-entry at the University of Adelaide under the new Colombo Plan Scholarship, and was allowed to take his fifth-year examinations in February 1952.
After completing his internship at the Royal Perth Hospital and a stint with the Malayan Medical Service, Sreeny developed a professional interest in urology, studying further at Liverpool, Manchester and in the United States.
He returned to Australia in the 1960s to obtain his Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in Urology.
His daughter, highly regarded Malaysian lawyer Dato Ambiga Sreenevasan, told a Malaysian website that setting up the Institute of Urology and Nephrology at Kuala Lumpur Hospital meant "long days and nights" for Sreeny.
From its inception in 1968 with just two male and two female beds in the third-class ward, the Institute has grown in size and stature, with more than 650 kidney transplants performed since 1975.
Sreeny retired from government service in 1974, but remained professionally active right up until his death. He held many positions of authority within Malaysia's health sector, including President of the Malaysian Medical Association and Chairman of the National Kidney Foundation of Malaysia.
Among his many honours are a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Adelaide in 1994, becoming a Foundation Fellow of the Academy of Sciences in Malaysia in 1995, and fellowship of the College of Surgeons in England, Scotland, Ireland, the US and Australia.
The current president of the University's Alumni Malaysia Chapter Bhd, Dr Ajeet Kaur Gill, described Sreeny as a "jovial man, full of laughter", who was devoted to his family and his work.
"He was very ethical. He wouldn't operate unless it was absolutely necessary and he did a lot of charity work, often providing free treatment for poorer people who couldn't afford to pay," she said.
"To set up a speciality in a country where previously there had been none, takes an enormous amount of hard work and perseverance. We were very fortunate in Malaysia to have him and to benefit from his expertise." ■
STORY BEN OSBORNE