Lives of the fellows

Dennis George Cottom

b.12 February 1924 d.13 August 1971
MC(1944) MA Oxon(1949) BM BCh(1951) MRCP(1953) DCH(1958) FRCP(1967)

A Military Cross with the Brigade of Guards and double first at Oxford! That was the man and the standard Dennis set himself and the heights to which he inspired others. Although accepting the highest standards for himself he was no hardliner. His beautiful manners and keen sense of humour ensured that he was always courteous and ready to listen, presenting with a modest approach his infectious drive and ability. As he learnt, so he taught, not only becoming a first class clinician but inspiring research in the neonatal unit at St. Thomas’s and the Tay-Sachs foundation at Great Ormond Street, where he also laid the foundation of renal research.

His father, Arthur Cottom, was a business executive in Birmingham, where Dennis was born. His mother, Lily Emma, was the daughter of Arthur Bloxham, an accountant in the same city. He had two sons by his first marriage in 1951 to Elizabeth Mary Russell whose father, Reginald Francis Russell Potter, was a clerk in Holy Orders (Church of England) at Datchett. The marriage was dissolved and he married again in 1967. His wife, Jennifer Moody, by whom he had a daughter Sarah, was the daughter of Pilot Officer Peter Moody of Norwich who was killed in action in 1940.

He was educated at Bournemouth School and went up to Oxford with a major open scholarship in Natural Sciences at Merton College. He interrupted his studies to serve with distinction in the 3rd Battalion of the Welsh Guards with whom he was awarded the MC on the Italian front. He treasured the association with friends made during the war and afterwards at Oxford. After qualifying he became RMO to the London Rifle brigade.

His teaching abilities were a shining example of his enthusiasm and knowledge. Few appreciated the problems of teaching at the two different levels, undergraduate and postgraduate, at which he excelled. He took the trouble to get to know the students, went to endless pains with his lectures and would often slip away before a round to refresh his memory on some detail. Witness to his influence is borne by the number of young paediatricians coming from St. Thomas’s, one of whom writes:— "Had it not been for his influence as a marvellous undergraduate teacher and later as a career adviser, I might never have discovered the intense satisfaction that I know a paediatric career will give me." The section of Paediatrics in Price’s textbook of medicine which he completed just before his death will be welcomed by future generations of students.

Entering St. Thomas’s with a university scholarship in 1948 he won a number of prizes, qualifying in 1951. He obtained the MRCP in 1953, DCH in 1958, being elected FRCP in 1967. If best known for his work in the neonatal field, it was here that he felt his knowledge was most slender when appointed to the staff in 1958 and he set about making good this deficiency. His activities in the neonatal laboratory and published papers in this field are a measure of his success. His experience with ‘well babies’ as consultant Paediatrician to the USAF was of mutual benefit. In 1963 he was appointed to the Staff of the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, where he had previously served as HP, registrar and RAP. As a consultant on the Staff of St. Thomas’s and Great Ormond Street he brought much which was of advantage to both institutions. He was an examiner in the London MB, and DCH. His visits to the United States and teaching in Africa and the Middle East were outstanding successes.

As the complete paediatrician he did not neglect the all important social and nursing aspects. He was in constant touch with Matrons of the two Schools and their Sisters, endeavouring to improve paediatric nursing and arranging teaching sessions for the nurses, which fired their enthusiasm for a place in the team. Many senior members of the nursing staff will have reason to remember his sympathetic attention to their difficulties. Adored by his young patients, he had the complete confidence of their parents, with his remarkable memory for their problems and those of their little ones, whenever they contacted him.

To be overwhelmed while standing on the roadside of a lane in France, a country that he loved, whilst walking with his sons, was an unbelievably cruel stroke of fate. The loss to all who knew him and benefited by his help and inspiration is paradoxically selfish, but to British and world paediatrics his death presented a gap not easily filled by any one man.

BDR Wilson

[Brit.med.J., 1971, 3, 538; Lancet, 1971, 2, 498]

(Volume VI, page 122)

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