Lives of the fellows

Thomas Archibald Watkin Edwards

b.5 October 1912 d.27 June 1986
BA Cantab(1935) MB BChir(1938) MRCP(1944) FRCP(1968)

Thomas Archibald Watkin Edwards (Wattie) was born in Middlesborough, Yorkshire, where his father John Watkin Edwards was a general practitioner. He was educated at Dulwich College and Christ’s College, Cambridge. He carried out his clinical duties at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he was house physician to the medical professorial unit from 1938-39, just before the second world war. When war was declared he immediately joined the Royal Air Force as a medical officer, serving throughout the 1939-45 war and being mentioned in despatches. He was proud of being one of the very few British doctors to have passed the MRCP examination, held in Cairo in 1944, at the first attempt. He reached the rank of wing commander in command of the medical division, and later as commanding officer of No 1 General Hospital, RAF Algiers, 1944-45. After the war he returned to Bart’s in 1946, as supernumerary chief assistant, before entering chest medicine as registrar at Clare Hall Hospital, South Mimms. In 1948, shortly before the start of the NHS, he was appointed consultant chest physician to St Albans City Hospital and Chest Clinic, and to Clare Hospital. From 1964 until his retirement in 1980, he was also on the consultant staff of Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Welwyn Garden City. His tact, humour and urbane approach made him a most successful chairman of meeting in St Albans, and as vice-president of the British Thoracic Association and chairman of its Joint Tuberculosis Committee.

Wattie was of short, stocky build and exuded goodwill and genial helpfulness. It was always a pleasure to meet him and work with him in the care of patients, or in hospital development. He was quietly determined, however, in building up the chest services. In the early days of the St Albans Clinic, for instance, the old laundry was converted not into a casualty department, as originally planned, but into a chest clinic. This was his empire, with a family atmosphere of devoted loyalty from secretaries, nurses and social workers. All his working life, records and x-rays of his patients were filed there separately, and in the new outpatient department an office was planned for the chest physician and for no other consultant. Wattie’s career spanned the development of chemotherapy and his research was the integration of chemotherapy with other treatments for tuberculosis. He had great regard and concern for his patients, for their jobs and their families, and in return he was held in high affection by them.

A quiet, scholarly man, he started life as a classicist and one of his retirement ambitions was to translate his 16th-century copy of Swammerdam’s De respiratione. He had a warm sense of humour and enjoyment in simple games and television programmes. He was also of an enquiring mind; climbing to the rim of Vesuvius soon after its 1944 eruption. Gardens and golf, numismatics and music, were his recreations; he was proud of being invited as a student to play the toccata from Widor’s 5th Symphony on the organ of the Royal Albert Hall.

Medicine was very much his life and he never accepted retirement. His idea of relaxing bedtime reading was a large textbook of medicine. He was unfulfilled after leaving his hospitals, despite the affectionate care of his wife, a Bart’s ward sister, and his pride in the families and achievements of his daughter, who was a nurse, and his son, professor of clinical medicine at Edinburgh.

DN Phear
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme

[, 1986,293,1035-36]

(Volume VIII, page 144)

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