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Professor Sir Murray Brennan

GNZM, MD, ChM, DSc (Otago)

Subject: Mathematics, Medicine

The education he received at the University of Otago gave Professor Sir Murray Brennan an “extraordinary opportunity” to carry out an extraordinary career.

From his days at medical school in Dunedin, where he also completed a science degree in mathematics, Professor Brennan became the leading cancer specialist at one of the world’s biggest cancer centres, was named a Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and has written more than 1,000 research papers.

It wasn’t where he was initially going to end up, he says. “I started off thinking I was going to be an engineer, because my father thought that was where I should go.”

He started out planning to do engineering and to go to the Otago’s mining school but headed to Otago from Auckland to medical school, and completed degrees in maths and medicine.

“I suppose I was a dilettante - I was the president of the student union, playing rugby for the University and Otago, just getting by in medicine I expect, but all of that made you who you were. It was an incredibly rounded education.”

That’s what makes Otago different, he says.

“It was the community life. Everyone was from somewhere else and you literally made friends with people who have remained friends for a lifetime.

“You played rugby with people from Central who hadn’t been off the farm more than ten minutes. You played rugby with people who were Rhodes scholars. You played rugby with people that were in the All Blacks…

“It was an education in the best terms of that word – it was broad, it was diverse … I could go on for days talking about how great it was.”

Somewhat ironically, one of the best things that happened to him at Otago was failing to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. The consolation prize was a trip to the United States sponsored by the State Department and it was there that he began to solely focus on medicine, which led him down his current career path.

He never forgot Otago, however, and brought his family back to New Zealand on many occasions. He laughingly says he “gave back” to Otago in the form of two of his four children coming to the University for their education, while his eldest son now operates a winery in Central Otago, Brennan Wines.

“I think that’s a pretty strong recommendation.”

For Professor Brennan, Only Otago means gaining the confidence to become yourself.

“It gave me a broad-based comfort about my ability to relate to people, my ability to get an education. I came away with this balanced education of what the world was about, and it gave me opportunities I couldn’t have conceived.”

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