Professor David Albert Cooper AO

  • June 25, 2018

I rise today to commemorate the life of a great Australian, Professor David Cooper AO, who was taken prematurely from us a few months ago. Professor Cooper made an outstanding contribution in the field of HIV and AIDS. He leaves behind an incredible legacy of world-class, cutting-edge research, the influence and impact of which extends well beyond Australia to right around the world. He leaves behind so many Australians who owe their own lives to his work and care.

Less than two weeks ago, I joined over 1,000 people at a memorial service at Sydney Town Hall to remember his life and his extraordinary work in our health sector. As one of those who spoke at the service was to comment, David Cooper was the right man, in the right place at the right time. In 1981 he travelled to Boston Massachusetts and worked as a research fellow in cancer immunology. This trip coincided with the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Sadly, on his return to St Vincent’s Hospital, he recognised the same illness in Australian men. At this time, AIDS was barely understood. It attracted the condemnation of some and was feared by many. Indeed, initially HIV wasn’t even used to describe this terrible disease. Yet Professor Cooper had no hesitation in becoming an evidence based medical voice in what had become an emotive, highly-charged public discussion. At the memorial service Michael Kirby, who lent his name to the institution that was at the centre of much of Professor Cooper’s work, said:

David Cooper was tireless in the preparation. He was superbly professional. He gathered together a magnificent team. He reached out, beyond our country. We should be proud of such a scientist and of our country, its universities and the institutions, that produced him. His family that nurtured him. His religion that taught him. The patients that loved him. But he was not ours alone. He belonged to the world of science. Today we honour him as a global hero.

As an academic, Professor Cooper’s research and discoveries are substantial, including his seminal paper on seroconversion illness. In the course of his career he published over 800 scientific papers. In 1986 Professor Cooper was named director of the newly founded National Centre of HIV Epidemiology in Clinical Research. This centre later became the Kirby Institute. He worked there until his death.

Professor Cooper was truly a global leader in treating HIV/AIDS, be it in our own region or in places like Africa, where the disease has caused such devastation. His contribution on HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases was recognised when he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2003. This award was posthumously upgraded to Companion of the Order of Australia in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List—the highest honour that can be bestowed by our nation.

David is survived by his wife, Dorrie, and his two daughters, Becky and Ilana. To a life well lived in the service of other I pay tribute. Vale Professor David Cooper.