Lives of the fellows

Philip Rainsford Evans

b.14 April 1910 d.5 July 1990
CBE(1968) BSc Manch(1930) MB ChB(1933) MRCP(1935) MD MSc(1951) FRCP(1945)

Philip Evans was the second son of Charles Irwin Evans, headmaster of Leighton Park School, Reading, and his wife Katherine née Bracher. He was educated at Sidcot School, Somerset, and at Leighton Park, the well known Quaker school. He undertook his scientific and medical training at Manchester University. After graduation he became house physician at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, followed by similar posts at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, and at the Brompton Hospital. J G Scadding, now a Fellow of the College and RMO of the Brompton at that time, writes of the dignity and style in which the residents then lived, the occasional bridge or poker in the evening, and of Barbara Hay-Cooper, a fellow house physician who was later to become Philip’s wife, lending grace to tea on the lawn outside the chapel on a fine weekend. Barbara and Philip were married in 1935.

Philip then spent two years as children’s registrar at King’s College Hospital, 1935-37, and was awarded a Rockefeller scholarship which took him first to the Presbyterian Hospital, New York, 1937-38, and later to a post as ‘Director of dispensary' or assistant paediatrician to Harriet Lane Home, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, 1938-39. It was while he was at the Presbyterian that he was struck in the eye and it was feared that he might lose his sight. He ever afterwards remembered the confidence he obtained from the visits of his chief, Alvin Coburn, who was himself full of confidence and cheer. He learnt later that Alvin Coburn was so upset that he was in tears on leaving the room. Over the years Philip remained convinced that this transfer of confidence in spite of internal anxiety was the mark of a good physician.

When he returned to England he was appointed assistant physician to the children’s department at King’s College Hospital, 1939-46, where Wilfrid Sheldon, later Sir Wilfrid, [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.531] was in charge and the spirit of Sir Frederic Still [Munk's Roll, Vol.IV, p.432] continued to prevail With the coming of war, he moved with the department to Cuckfield in Sussex until 1942, when he joined the RAMC and served in North Africa and Italy, first with the rank of major and later promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was mentioned in despatches and in 1946 was appointed adviser in medicine, Central Mediterranean Forces. After leaving the Army he was given the rank of honorary colonel and from 1962-66 was honorary consultant in paediatrics to the Army.

In 1946 he resigned his post at King's to become children's physician and director of the department of paediatrics at Guy's Hospital, working largely at the Evelina Hospital. In that same year he was also appointed to the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, 1946-75. It could be said that his real work began with these appointments. At Guy's, without fuss but with determination, he developed one of the leading paediatric departments in the country. The partnership of Ronald Mac Keith [Munks Roll, Vol.VII, p.358], with his imagination, passion and deep concern for the chronically handicapped child, and Philip Evans firm control and humility, Produced remarkable results. And with Philip’s encouragement, Paul Polani, later a Fellow of the Royal Society, founded the paediatric research unit, working with great success on the causes of congenital defect.

Philip then developed the concept of regional paediatric services and the sharing of resources with other departments in the same region. Together with his colleagues, he also designed the new children’s department and saw the successful transfer of the Evelina Hospital to Guy’s - now the Evelina children’s department.

At Great Ormond Street, his reputation preceded him and his appointment caused excitement among the junior staff, amongst whom in later years his firm always remained a popular choice. He was an able and subtle diagnostician, and a thoughtful and moderating figure in debate. He rapidly became one of the leading members of staff and he supported the initiative of Sir Wilfrid Sheldon in the imaginative link between Mulago Hospital, Uganda, and Great Ormond Street, which was later terminated because of civil turmoil.

In 1966 there was a move to build a new hospital in Saigon under the Colombo Plan and Philip headed a team sent out to explore the project. He eventually stayed on in Saigon for over a year, as leader of the British team working at the hospital, and became involved in the fighting at the time of the Tet offensive. His wife Barbara had accompanied him and, as a pathologist and medical correspondent of The Sunday Times, described their experiences of wartime Vietnam in her book Caduceus in Saigon, London, Hutchinson, 1968.

Philip’s own writing was not extensive. It reflected his interest in disability in children, such as cerebral palsy and genetic disorders. In collaboration with R Mac Keith he wrote Infant feeding and feeding difficulties, London, Churchill, 1951; 2nd edition 1954, and he edited, with A Moncrieff, the 5th edition of Garrod, Batten and Thursfield’s Diseases of Children in 1953. He was also the successful editor of Archives of Disease in Childhood from 1947-54.

Philip Evans was essentially a physician and although supportive of research, and of a deeply enquiring mind, he never became involved in any major projects. His lectures were a model of clarity; elegant and precise and always enlivened by a gentle self-deprecating humour. This was also true of his teaching, which inspired many of his students to follow him into paediatrics.

It was truly said that he was the sort of man everyone might wish to be. He was kind, gentle and thoughtful and always appeared to have unlimited time to discuss with his staff their problems - whether ward sister, medical staff or research colleagues. He constantly searched for the new in science and its application to medicine. He treasured exceptions to health, to be studied for the knowledge they might add to the control of normal development. He had an uncanny skill at remembering work and names, and quoting these accurately. But perhaps his humour, understanding and deep sympathy will be most remembered by those who knew him.

He was secretary of the British Paediatric Association, 1954-59; president of the paediatric, 1968-69, and of the comparative medicine sections of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1982-83, and he was director of the Tay-Sachs Foundation from 1971-74. He was a member of the Council of the College, 1962-65, and the first paediatric censor, 1972-74. He received the CBE in 1968, the Dawson Williams prize of the BMA in 1969, and the Moxon Medal of the College - a distinction he much appreciated.

Outside medicine, his interests were diverse. Reading and writing poetry were perhaps pre-eminent, especially in later years, but also water-colour painting, mending clocks and even investigating the differences in hinges and catches on farm gates in different counties -though perhaps the latter showed his sense of humour.

For many years he suffered from joint pains, leading eventually to loss of use of his knee joints and later to generalized weakness with cardiac involvement and - greatest blow of all - progressive loss of vision. There was never a word of complaint and he bore it with courage and patience - it is said that he talked about it all as if about the troubles of another person.

Throughout his career, his wife Barbara remained a strong support and counsellor. They had three sons and a daughter, all with successful careers, none medical.

A P Norman

[Brit.med.J., 1990,234; Times, 7 July 1990;The Independent, 31 July 1990; The Daily Telegraph, 10 July 1990;Guy's Hosp. Gaz., 1971,85;1972,86]

(Volume IX, page 156)

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