A life of service

Prof Dr Ijaz Ahsan believed in serving people. He continued to do that till his last breath

Prof Dr Ijaz Ahsan excelled at everything he did. He was the best graduate at King Edward Medical College (now university), the best husband, the best father, the best brother, the best uncle and the best teacher. Few people know today that besides being one of the finest surgeons, he was a keen photographer, a tennis player, a student of singing who enjoyed playing the harmonium, a passionate agriculturist and an avid writer.

His talent for photography didn’t get wasted in his career as a pediatric and general surgeon. Over the years, he preserved important images from his landmark surgeries, which became the building blocks of his manual of surgery. This was his way of giving back to the medical profession what he had gained from it. The Textbook of Surgery, his labour of love, was published by the prestigious Routledge Publications in 1991.

In 1995, Dr Ahsan took a principled stand and resigned as the KEMC principal. However, he continued teaching for the remainder of his years, both in Pakistan where he was elected president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan (CPSP), and across the world through his seminal book on surgery. His legacy as a man of integrity endures.

His weekly column in The Nation reflected his many passions. Till his last breath, he was thinking not of death, but of his country and passing on his wisdom. He was writing his latest book (From Heaven to Hell, a political history of Pakistan) till his fingers could type no more.

That was when I found out that he was developing a rapidly progressing descending paralysis due to Covid-19. But before he called me, he called my cousin Omar to hand him the manuscript with instructions for completing the book.

He was the father-figure to the entire extended family. Yet, he was very unassuming. He laughed and cried with the family, sharing every joy and sorrow and pushing everyone to be their best.

As a doctor, he considered it his duty to give people hope. He did that till the last, telling his daughter Saira not to worry as 99 percent of Covid patients recovered.

Aware of his deteriorating condition, he waited for her to go home and then asked me to assemble his medical team as he wanted to bid his final ‘khuda hafiz’. I had the honour of doing that for him.

On behalf of the family, I would like to thank everyone for their affectionate messages since his passing away. Although Mamun Ijaz, the star, ‘a powerhouse of talent, energy, humour and passion’ is no more among us, we believe that he is shining in another galaxy while his wisdom lives on in the work of his students.

The 15-year-old photography enthusiast straight out of Central Model School, Lahore, before he jointed Government College, Lahore.
“This picture was taken by Ijaz Ahsan in 1950. The Shah of Iran was visiting Lahore, and we were standing in front of the main gate of Central Model School. While he was passing in front of us, Ijaz took this picture with his ordinary Brownie camera. He moved his camera along with the speed of the car and told me that the two figures will come correctly while the background will be all fuzzy. And that’s what happened. It is a great picture, and I really admire him for that.”
“This picture puts me in the middle because of Bhai’s eye for ‘balance’. As we entered the Bhatti Studio on The Mall, on the eve of Bhai flying out for his FRCS, the photographer naturally made our fatherstand in the middle and most appropriately his two sons on either side. Bhai walked up to the camera, looked through the lens and decided that the photograph would be balanced with the shortest one (me) in the middle. Abba ji willingly complied. Thus the balance which in fact made Abba ji’s ‘kaj kulahi’ become more prominent. A slight tilt in the cap or kullah indicating self-confidence and “I-take-no-orders” attitude. (Family photo, fondly described by the youngest member, Aitezaz Ahsan.)
Through thick and thin: Unflinching support of a graceful and calm spouse, Mrs Farhat Ijaz Ahsan. Ahsans were a Lahori couple, who left the comfort of their hometown to travel the span of the country together, for postings to Peshawar’s Khyber Medical College, Multan’s Nishtar Medical college, Hyderabad’s Liaquat Medical College, and back to Lahore’s King Edward Medical College, as principal of AIMC and then his alma mater, the KEMC. Raising two lovely, talented daughters, Farhat’s magnanimity and stability gave Dr Ijaz the home base for his multifaceted passions.
With his kid brother, 11 years his junior, a friend as well as a father figure to the whole family.
Dance steps no grandchild could match.


What a great loss! He taught me in third, fourth and final year and then I served as house officer. As a teacher, Prof Ijaz Ahsan had no parallel, he regarded this as one of the most important functions of his life. His sense of duty in this aspect was such that no amount of inducement would keep him away from a teaching assignment to his students. He taught with great conviction and his text book on surgery will forever perpetuate his teachings. His old students will visualize him as a handsome man standing erect with outstretched hands, with piercing eyes and an unspoken intimidation that he would not withstand any nonsense. He was devoted to his work and was a model to all surgeons like me for his integrity, sense of duty and care for his patients. Prof Ijaz Ahsan was always a student and would always stress upon me the value of reading surgical literature. How precious it was knowing him, I know that every student, doctor and surgeon who has known Prof Ijaz Ahsan would mourn this loss and treasure the memories they have of him. His name in surgery will live forever as one of the most outstanding surgeons of the subcontinent. To Allah Almighty we shall all return.

With great grief, but with a sense of pride, his student.

Prof M Ayyaz, SIMS Principal.

His book was the only comprehensive book on general surgery. We were not able to get that information from other famous books, when we had no Internet.

-Dr Saira Khan, Consultant

Departure of a legend. Let me take you back to nearly 65 years, when he was declared the best graduate of KE. He proceeded to England and did his FRCS at just the age of 27. I was his student in 1968 and 52 years on I have had a very long association with him. Anyone who had the fortune of working with him, would fall in love with him. I can narrate just one incident, when I joined KE in 1994 he said ‘Chaudhry sb let me fill your charge report’ and he did it. There is no bigger honour than this.

-Prof A Majeed Chaudhry, LMDC Principal

This is an end of an era of great teachers with high integrity and principles. A legendary teacher, great leader, motivator, and mentor who always endeavored to ingrain hard work and good work ethics in his students. In spite of his tougher exterior, he was soft inside and at times entertained his juniors, colleagues and students with his good sense of humor, singing and musical skills. Have many fond memories as working as his house officer.

-Prof Dr Mohd Wasi

There is so much to learn from this charismatic character. There has been only one in 73 years in this country. He had enjoyed all major posts, but disliked being projected. He would always give his view point irrespective of who chaired the session. He had the amazing quality of putting across his views with such sophistication but with absolute resolution. I wish we can learn few things from the life of Prof Ijaz Ahsan.

-Dr Zaman Ranjha

I had the honor of knowing this humble and learned human being through a very inspiring event in my life. I was a 2nd year medical student at that time. Our neighbor Samson Jacobs’ newborn daughter had a congenital malformation upon birth. It was chand-raat. This child had no chance of surviving beyond 24-48 hours if a much-needed surgery was not performed immediately. And the only surgeon who could do that surgery was the one and only Dr Ijaz Ahsan. I, out of nowhere, called him and introduced myself as a medical student and requested if he is available. He was at home and came in at 3am to perform the surgery. It was an inspiring and humbling moment in my life. I picked up surgery as my specialty early in my career just because of this inspiration. And that baby girl is now herself a physician serving humanity. True hero of Pakistan.

-Dr Ahmed Numaan

I was selected as a house officer during late June 1986 and Dr Ijaz Ahsan was the newly-ensconced professor in the West Surgical Ward. For most of us, he was something of an unknown quantity, but his reputation for being interested in the welfare and progress of junior doctors, and his passion for teaching, had preceded him. What followed were six months of incredibly hard work, under the supervision and tutelage of a man who really did care about his junior colleagues, who knew each of us by name, and who took a personal interest in our careers. Prof Ijaz instilled in many of us the desire to learn and to excel.

Almost 30 years later, a somewhat older but very fit-looking Ijaz sahib walked into my clinic at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital with a patient. I got to know Professor Ijaz, as well as his lovely wife, Farhat, very well. Both were warm and affectionate hosts who made everyone who knew them feel as though they were part of the family. He was an unfailingly polite and courteous man, a gentleman of the old school. It was always deeply moving to see how much he cared for and obviously loved his wife. He was kind, welcoming and generous, almost to a fault.

His passing away last week marks the end of an era, for he was one of the few surviving from the first generation of post-partition medical professors. He was instrumental in setting up the Department of Surgery at the Khyber Medical College in Peshawar and was the founding principal of Allama Iqbal Medical College in Lahore, principal of King Edward Medical College, his alma mater, and president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan.

He was also the author of several books, including a definitive textbook of surgery, and had published research internationally at a time when contributions from Pakistan were rare.

It was a privilege and an honour to have known him and to have been a small part of his life. His wife and daughters, Saira and Amna, know that while we mourn his death, we also celebrate a life lived well, and to the full.

-Dr Aasim Yusuf
Chief Medical Officer,
SKMH, Lahore.

Compiled and contributed by family and friends of Dr Ijaz Ahsan

A life of service