Lives of the fellows

Rees Byron Evans

b.14 September 1912 d.1 January 1990
MRCS LRCP(1936) MB BS Lond(1937) MD(1939) MRCP(1939) FRCP(1957) HonLLD Wales(1981)

Byron Evans was born in Llanon, Cardigan (Dyfed), Wales. His father John Owen Evans was a master mariner, from whom he inherited his love of order and punctuality. His mother Margaret Jane, was the daughter of Rees Jenkins - another master mariner. Byron was educated at Ardwyn School, Aberystwyth, where he played soccer in the 1st XI and was a natural Welsh speaker. Throughout his life he was always affectionately known as ‘Byron’, to the exclusion of his first name and frequently of his surname; an indication of his general popularity.

He received his medical education at The London Hospital medical school, where he won the Charrington prize in anatomy and the T A M Ross prize in clinical medicine and pathology.

After graduation in 1936 his first posts were as house physician at The London Hospital, and as clinical assistant in the children’s department and surgical department of The London and Southend Hospitals. While there he worked with W J O’Donovan, the consultant dermatologist. He was also receiving room officer, and as pathology assistant he performed some 1000 post mortems.

Later, as medical registrar at The London, he came under the influence of Donald Hunter [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.288] and of two great Welsh physicians; Horace Evans, later Lord Evans [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.123], and William Evans [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.146]. The latter taught him how to teach and was later, in retirement, his firm friend. In 1939 he obtained his doctorate and his membership of the College. From 1939-42 he was senior resident officer and medical registrar in the Emergency Medical Service until he joined the RAF as a medical specialist with the rank of flight lieutenant.

In 1943 he married Pamela, a nurse and daughter of Charles Horace Steinbach who was a medical practitioner. They had three children, a son Charles and two daughters, Nicola and Phillipa. Soon after his marriage, Byron was posted to the Middle East with the rank of squadron leader. In Egypt, he once did his medical round in the camp while seated on a camel - and he took great pride in this. By 1945 he was a wing commander, giving postgraduate lectures in Cairo and in charge of a medical division.

On demobilization he was appointed honorary physician to the Cardiff Royal Infirmary (then a voluntary hospital) and to the attached Llandough Hospital in Penarth. He also visited several hospitals in the adjacent Welsh valleys. He was later appointed a medical tutor at the Welsh National School of Medicine. After the Infirmary was incorporated into the NHS in 1948 he continued as a consultant physician and was elected a Fellow of the College in 1957.

Subsequently, when the new University Hospital was opened in 1971 by Her Majesty the Queen, he became senior physician in what was later to be called the Welsh College of Medicine - a post he retained until his retirement in 1977. During this time he served on the senate and the council of the medical school. He also served on the council of the Medical Protection Society and the Medical Insurance Agency. He was consultant to the then Ministry of Pensions and the Civil Service Sanatorium Society, and from 1956-1984 he sat on the medical appeal tribunal. He received the Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal and in 1981 was awarded an honorary LLD, Wales.

Although a general physician, his main interest was cardiology and he was on the council of the British Cardiac Society. He attributed much of his expertise to his early teachers at the London Hospital As time passed, however, it became clear that he had an innate Hippocratic approach to medicine, emphasizing the basic principles, which achieved it full stature in later years. He loved to teach students at the bedside, being always courteous and grateful to the patients. His main contributions to medicine were in student teaching and clinical medicine. He taught the essentials which had to be employed in every case, with examination from the ‘vertex to the hallux’. So thorough was this that one patient said ‘. . . one had to be fit’ to see Byron.

He was sceptical of the minutiae of multiple investigations. Students were made to carry a notebook - ‘Take out your book, doctor, and write this down.’ Among his aphorisms were ‘Listen to the patient for he is telling you the diagnosis’ and ‘Always examine both jugular veins for uneven pressure.’ When he could find no answer to a problem, his famous saying was: ‘The only person who knows the answer to that is the Almighty - and He is not on the phone.’

It was the ambition of most students to become his houseman, but he could be demanding if they lacked proper decorum and courtesy towards patients. One shaggy, ill-dressed student was the recipient of a sharp remark, ‘I met your brother last week in Bristol Zoo.’ - it had a salutary effect. Byron was president and vice-president of the Students’ Union, and of the Old Students’ Association, for some 30 years.

Writing articles did not come easily to him, he described it as ‘hell’. Nevertheless, he wrote - jointly - the first account of the oral use of diuretics in this country, and a number of articles with a cardiological theme; on syphylitic aneurysm, anti-coagulants, and obscure cardiopathies. He also wrote on leishmaniasis, amyloidosis and haemoptysis, and contributed a chapter on ‘Other communicable and allied disease’ in Medicine, ed H G Garland and W Philips, London, Macmillan & Co, 1953.

Byron’s relaxations were gardening, swimming and fishing in the Usk or Teifi rivers. Rugby was also a great interest and he never missed an international match at the Cardiff Arms park. He donated the ‘Byron Evans’ cup to be played for by the provincial hospitals and attended all the matches at its inception. He had a cottage in Solva, near St David’s, where he could retreat for holidays or entertain his many friends for weekends. In his early days he had a stammer which he overcame in later years, but used with great effect in his after-dinner speeches. He loved company and had an endless store of jokes which he told in his own unique style. He also loved singing and conducting his friends, being especially proud of an invitation to conduct Gyamanfa Ganu, a massed male voice choir (Cor Meibion) which gathered in his home town of Llanon.

On retirement, he concluded his last case presentation at the hospital grand round by conducting the audience in the hymn ‘Lead kindly light’. The students lined the drive as he left the hospital.

Byron’s wife Pamela died in 1973 and for a few years his normal cheerful and outgoing manner deserted him, but in 1977 he married Kirsteen Aiton, a nurse, who gave him loving and unstinting care during his long illness. Byron knew all the possible consequences of his fatal illness well in advance and bore the terminal months with fortitude. He took much pleasure in his son, now a solicitor, his twin daughters and his six grandchildren.

Throughout his life he was a warm-hearted, sentimental man, but a completely organized one, liking hard work and dedicated to his profession. He had always seen the humorous side of life. His own words say it all: ‘Lucky chap, I was' and ‘I’ve been divinely happy'. He will remain a legend in Wales.

G A Hodgson

[, 1990,300,327]

(Volume IX, page 158)

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