Lives of the fellows

Samuel Whately Davidson

b.25 May 1896 d.30 August 1976
MB BS Durh(1920) MD(1923) MRCP(1923) FFR(1938) FRCP(1942) Hon FCRA(1957)

Samuel Whately Davidson’s father, Joshua, was a provision merchant and importer in Newcastle upon Tyne, and his mother, Lucy Clara Unsworth, was the daughter of a master clockmaker in the same area. Davidson was at school at Rutherford College in Newcastle. He lost his father when he was ten years old. His father had always hoped that his son would become a medical missionary, but his guardian pressed him into a career in pharmacy. Whately was not happy working in a pharmacy, and he finally prevailed upon his guardian to let him enter the local medical school.

As a student he served in the Royal Navy as a temporary surgeon probationer. After qualifying he intended to make a career as a physician, but in 1925 at the suggestion of his chief, William Hume (later Sir William), he became honorary assistant physician to the X-ray, massage and electrical department of the Royal Victoria Infirmary. He became head of the department in 1930 and held this post until his retirement in 1961.

His career as a radiologist was outstandingly successful. He established X-ray services in many hospitals in the north east of England, including that at the Newcastle General Hospital in 1929. From 1938 until 1966, when he was 70, he was consultant radiologist to the regional thoracic surgery unit at Shotley Bridge Hospital. He would arrive at the hospital at 6.30 a.m. complete his reporting, and return to the Royal Victoria Hospital by 9.00 a.m., to start a full day’s work. Between 1948 and 1951 a new department of radiology was planned and built at the RVI. It is still a superb department, and it is a lasting memorial to Whately Davidson’s vision and energy.

He served as an examiner in radiology to many universities and boards from 1937 to 1966. He held many important offices both locally and nationally, serving as president of the Faculty (now Royal College) of Radiologists, president of the section of radiology of the Royal Society of Medicine, president elect of the British Institute of Radiology, and as a member of the Standing Medical Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health for six years. In 1968 he was elected a fellow of the British Medical Association.

Whately Davidson maintained his interest in the Navy, being mobilized in 1938 and released for duty in the EMS the following year. He was at one time a district commissioner of the Boy Scouts, and received the Medal of Merit of the Scout movement.

In his long career he had witnessed and played a material part in the emergence of diagnostic radiology as a specialty. After his official retirement he was almost continuously employed doing locums in the north east, and at the time of his death he was a locum consultant radiologist to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead. For over ten years after his sixty-fifth birthday he regularly gave tutorials (for which he would take no payment) to FFR (FRCR) candidates. For a long period he was a most successful chairman of the Regional Committee for registrars and senior registrars.

Whately had a most attractive personality and was beloved by a wide circle of people. He was always ready with a smile or a greeting for the patient lying on a stretcher in the corridor. He was a staunch Presbyterian, with a high sense of humour. Many will recall his twinkling blue eyes and his cheerful face surmounting a figure somewhat reminiscent of a Toby jug - often telling a joke against himself, sometimes at a piano playing the Blaydon Races, sometimes dressed in deerstalker, anorak and knickerbockers, energetically beagling.

In later years he was a frequent visitor to the consultant’s dining room at the RVI, and he made many new friends among the staff appointed after his retirement.

Whately Davidson married in 1936 Elizabeth Brenda Mason, the daughter of a wirerope manufacturer. There were two sons and a daughter of the marriage; the daughter married a son of William Gilchrist Patterson, FRCP.

CK Warwick
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme

[Brit.med.J., 1976, 2, 705; Lancet, 1976, 2, 750]

(Volume VII, page 135)

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