Lives of the fellows

Gordon Francis Edwards

b.11 December 1913 d.1 May 1996
MBE(1942) MRCS LRCP(1937) MB BS Lond(1938) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1970) FCCP(1973)

Gordon Edwards’ career as a chest physician in Leeds saw the decline of tuberculosis and the rise of other chest diseases such as asthma. He was born in London, the son of William Edwards, a retail butcher. He was educated at University College School, London, and then proceeded to London University. He had a distinguished career at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, obtaining prizes in five subjects in the final year and being made the Llewellyn scholar as the most outstanding final year student.

After qualifying in 1937, Gordon Edwards obtained positions as house physician at the Charing Cross Hospital and the London Chest Hospital. He joined the Army in 1938 on a regular commission and saw service in field medical units and operational medical administrative appointments in Malta, the Middle East, Italy, France and Germany. He was awarded the MBE for his services in Malta during the siege and was twice mentioned in despatches.

On the conclusion of hostilities Gordon Edwards resumed clinical duties at the Military Hospital in Hamburg with the rank of lieutenant colonel, before returning to the UK to take up the prestigious military medical posting of physician and surgeon to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, a post he held from 1946 to 1948. Obtaining the MRCP in 1948 he was then appointed to the chest unit of the Connaught Hospital. He left the Army in 1952 and became senior registrar at the Bedford Hospital whilst also holding the appointment of clinical assistant at the Brompton Hospital. These posts he held until his appointment as senior consultant chest physician in Leeds in 1953.

This appointment involved responsibilities as physician to the General Infirmary, physician in charge of the respiratory diseases department at St James’s Hospital, senior chest physician to Leeds Chest Clinic and the Regional Cardiothoracic Centre at Killingbeck Hospital and lecturer in tuberculosis at the University of Leeds.

Gordon Edwards arrived in Leeds just as massive changes were taking place in respiratory medicine. His training effectively equipped him to initiate these changes and he was largely responsible for establishing respiratory medicine as a specialty in Leeds. This he achieved despite considerable opposition. Through his efforts locally, and those of others elsewhere, chest physicians obtained a single contract with the NHS, although some of their duties, involving the prevention, care and aftercare of tuberculosis, were still the responsibility of the local authority.

Tuberculosis was going into a steep decline and Leeds took a full part in multicentred trials which established effective chemotherapeutic treatment. At the same time the massive problem of chronic obstructive airways disease in a large northern industrial city was becoming ever more pressing. Gordon Edwards personally directed extended research into the optimum use of antibiotics in the control of the frequent infective relapses of chronic bronchitis, a condition in which cigarettes played a major role. This, together with the rapid increase in the incidence of asthma and carcinoma of the bronchus, necessitated the establishment of a comprehensive service for the management of respiratory diseases. That this was established so well in the city of Leeds was largely due to the vision, drive and enthusiasm of Gordon Edwards. Later he developed an interest and expertise in the medico-legal aspects of pneumoconiosis, especially asbestosis. This work continued in retirement right up to the time of death.

Gordon Edwards developed his skills in administration in the Army and continued to play a full part in the management of the hospital side of the NHS in Leeds. He was chairman of a number of hospital committees in the Leeds region and in the 1960s was a member of the Joint Tuberculosis Council and the central committee for hospital medical services of the BMA.

Gordon Edwards married Mary Helen Garner in 1939 and they had three daughters. Realizing the necessity of learning to cook after his wife’s death, he entered into the exercise with vigour and enthusiasm and became a very accomplished cook. He was also an enthusiastic gardener.

Gordon Edwards military bearing never left him and he maintained a brisk manner and smart appearance. He was deeply interested in classical music and in history and he had an extensive library. He continued to live independently in his lovely home and garden near Harrogate until the end, which came suddenly from a heart attack.

D J Charley

[Brit.med.J., 1996,313,164]

(Volume X, page 128)

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