Professor Robert Elliott, CNZM
Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit

Sir Robert Elliott, who prefers to go by Bob, says imagination is key to having a successful career in medical research.

He should know, having spent about 60 years of his life dedicated to trying to better the quality of life for people - especially children.

In 1971, Elliott co-founded the Child Health Research Foundation, now known as CureKids, the largest funder of child health research outside the government.

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The foundation struggled during the 1990s and Elliott thought it might have tipped over; however, he made a valuable discovery.

He found milk from different sorts of cows had effects on human health but, at the time, Elliott wasn't all that bothered by it.

"I didn't think much of it at the time and took a patent out that caught the eye of commerce and thus was born the A2 Milk Corporation," he said.

"The corporation was prepared to pay handsomely for that patent and CureKids took off from there … it brought in a small fortune."

Looking back on his career, it was CureKids which pleased him as it would continue to fund top-grade research for children's health long after he was "pushing up daisies".

His career might not have been possible without his older sister, though, who taught him the importance of using imagination, which he thought was "extremely important".

"You have to imagine how a problem could be resolved and let your imagination go wild," Elliott said.

"People need to think as widely as they can and not be restricted by can't attitudes. If you've got a good imagination, you'll come up with solutions for all sorts of things."

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While he had failed hundreds of times there were half a dozen or so successes which were adopted internationally for the treatment of children with diseases, of which Elliott was immensely proud.

Being made a knights companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to medical research was a great way to tip off the twilight of his career, he said.

"I'm pretty chuffed really. It's a really pleasing award for a very very long research career - 60 years of research really," Elliott said.

"I'm on the tail end of my career and it's a really pleasing full stop after such a long time."

Previous honours:

• Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, New Year 1999.