Lives of the fellows

George Roche Fearnley

b.6 June 1915 d.28 September 1991
MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS Lond(1939) MD(1942) MRCP(1942) FRCP(1962)

George Fearnley was born in London of medical stock on both the paternal and the distaff side of the family. With such a background it was not surprising that a truly scientific approach to medicine dominated his professional life. He was educated at Westminster School, where he was a classical scholar, and went on to study medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital where he formed friendships with kindred spirits which endured for the rest of his life. He qualified shortly before the second world war and after a year as casualty officer at the hospital he was appointed physician in the St Thomas’ sector of the EMS, from 1941-44. He then joined the RAMC as a medical specialist and saw service in India, Ceylon, Borneo, Java and Singapore.

The seeds of his subsequent devotion to research were sown when he went to the Bellevue Hospital, New York in 1950 as attending physician. It was at this time that he met and later married his first wife Betty, née Baier. Betty adapted with good humour to the English way of life although it was a source of sadness to both of them that they had no surviving children. Betty was even prepared to put up with her husband having a water bath in their bedroom - so that he could conveniently continue his observations on fibrinolysis throughout the night.

In 1951 George returned from New York to be appointed lecturer in medicine at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School and honorary consultant physician to Hammersmith Hospital. For the next four years he worked closely with Eric Bywaters in the department of rheumatology and this period found him increasingly absorbed in research into clotting mechanisms. He developed and refined experimental techniques in fibrinolysis and published the first of many papers on the subject in Clinical Science, 1952. Subsequent papers appeared in the British Journal of Haematology, 1955; in the American Journal of Cardiology, 1960, and in the Lancet and Nature, 1961.

With this background it was perhaps somewhat surprising that he left Hammersmith in 1955 on his appointment to the post of consultant physician in the North Gloucestershire clinical area, where he had a warm welcome from the medical staff who were happy to provide him with a wider range of clinical material and thus enable him to extend his fibrinolysis research into the realm of coronary artery disease. His high academic standards uplifted the provincial hospital atmosphere and in 1965 his book Fibrinolysis, London, Arnold, was published. From Gloucester he travelled as far afield as Japan, giving papers on his work to a range of scientific meetings. It is a matter of regret that his therapeutic applications of the research did not have lasting success and it was left to others to develop and establish successful fibrinolytic therapy in coronary artery disease.

As one would expect, George was a keen naturalist but his abiding hobby was fly fishing, at which he became an expert. On his retirement from the NHS in 1980 he left Gloucestershire for a cottage on his adored trout stream, the Test. His first wife, Betty, had died prematurely not long after the publication of his book, in the preparation of which she had played a significant role with her encouragement, typing and proof reading. He was survived by his second wife, Rosemary, whom he married before retiring and who became a tower of strength to him, especially in his last years which were sadly marked by failing health and vision.

R F Jarrett

[Brit.med.J., 1992,304,250]

(Volume IX, page 168)

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