Lives of the fellows

Peter Basil Croft

b.14 June 1922 d.23 July 1981
BSc Oxon(1946) MA(1947) BM BCh(1947) MRCP(1951) FRCP(1970)

Peter Basil Croft was born in Ashton-under-Lyne. His father, Harold William Croft, was a civil servant and his mother Kathleen Luscombe, was the daughter of a headmaster. He was educated at Bristol Grammar School and then won a scholarship to Keble College, Oxford. He was one of the few students who were allowed to do a full course in physiology in wartime Oxford, and he gained first class honours in Natural Science (physiology). In 1943 and 1944 he did research on the metabolism of thermal burns in animals in the department of biochemistry, University of Oxford, under Sir Rudolph Peters. This work formed the subject of a BSc thesis which he obtained in 1946. After qualification he did various house jobs, including that of house physician to LJ Witts on the medical unit at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. Early in his career he decided he wanted to do neurology, working first with Michael Ashby at the Whittington and later with Lord Brain at the London Hospital. There he was to take part in much of the research in that distinguished department, his particular interest being in the remote effects of cancer on the nervous system. On this subject he wrote many papers including some with Lord Brain, Ronald Henson, Marcia Wilkinson and Henry Urich. In one (1963) he and his co-worker examined 1500 patients with cancer in an effort to find the incidence of the various types of carcinomatous neuromyopathy. Another important paper was that on ‘Abnormal Responses to Muscle Relaxants in Carcinomatous Neuropathy’ (1958) in which he pointed out the dangers of giving relaxant drugs to patients with cancer. He was an industrious worker and a keen observer and wrote papers on a wide variety of neurological topics, including the metabolism of thermal burns, familial hypertrophic polyneuritis, spontaneous spinal subarachnoid haemorrhage and ocular myopathy.

He became consultant neurologist to the Prince of Wales’s Hospital, Tottenham, in 1958, the Bolingbrooke Hospital in 1959, the Lister Hospital in 1961, the Queen Eizabeth II Hospital at Welwyn Garden City in 1964, and the Whittington Hospital in 1964, resigning his appointments at the Bolingbrooke and the Lister when he became director of the neurological unit at the Whittington Hospital. In 1970 he became honorary consulting neurologist to the Jewish Home and Hospital. With his remarkable memory, kindness, unflagging devotion and balanced judgement he rapidly made his mark as a most valued friend and colleague, and was often asked to give a second opinion on a difficult case or to see members of his colleagues’ families. He was a hard worker and nothing was ever too much trouble - on one occasion when a colleague was going to lecture in America he spent the entire night trying to find a vital piece of film.

During his time as neurologist at the Whittington he played a prominent part in initiating and organizing the now world famous membership course held there. He was renowned as a brilliant teacher and many generations of registrars, house officers and students have reason to be grateful to him for the sound training he gave them. Above all things he was a clinician and to him the patient always came first. Schooled in the Radcliffe and London Hospital tradition, careful history-taking and examination of the patient were important to him, and he had no sympathy for those who did not come up to his high standard.

In addition to his clinical duties he was a great attender of meetings, and until his last illness never missed a meeting of the Association of British Neurologists. He served on numerous committees, including the finance committee of the Royal College of Physicians. For many years he was secretary of the neurologists and neurosurgeons committee of the North East Thames Area, and was a keen and able secretary and member of the Council of the neurological section of the Royal Society of Medicine. He was a keen photographer and gardener, and roses were his special joy. In 1954 he married Patricia, whose father, Frederick George Fox, was a tea planter, and they had two sons and two daughters.

MIP Wilkinson

[, 1981, 283, 624; Times, 28 July 1981]

(Volume VII, page 125)

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