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In April 1988, Peter Schurr delivered the twelfth Sir Hugh Cairns Memorial Lecture to the Society of British Neurological Surgeons. In his lecture, The Cairns Tradition, Schurr extolled the personal virtues of Cairns. He encouraged his colleagues to draw inspiration from Cairns' renowned determination, organisation, drive for perfection, compassion, and commitment to the training of those around him. Indeed, Cairns' own personality has come to define the specialty which he established in Britain. Today's neurosurgeons are, whether knowingly or not, formed in his image. But there is a side to Hugh Cairns that has been lost in the telling of his remarkable story, and yet it played a central role in his greatest achievements. This is the side of himself which he turned towards others. Throughout his career, Cairns received an inordinate number of personal accolades. His tutelage under Cushing during a formative trip to America and the impact of his role in caring for T. E. Lawrence are well known to many. But, more than thirty years after Peter Schurr's memorial lecture, and following the eightieth anniversary of the department of neurosurgery founded by Cairns in Oxford, it is his work as a pioneering collaborator which defines his legacy today, and which calls us to learn yet another lesson from his remarkable life. In this legacy article, we review the origins of Cairns' collaborative spirit and uncover the achievements he shared with Charles Hallpike, Howard Florey, Derek Denny-Brown, William Ritchie Russell, Ludwig Guttman, and Peter Medawar, among many others.

Original publication




Journal article


Acta Neurochir (Wien)

Publication Date



History of neurosurgery, Military neurosurgery, Sir Hugh Cairns