Lives of the fellows

Oliver Patrick Noél Alexis Fitzgerald

b.23 December 1910 d.1 December 1987
BSc(1933) MB BCh BAO NUI(1936) MSc(1937) MD(1941) MRCP(1967) FRCP(1972) FRCPE(1972) FRCPI(1973)

Oliver Fitzgerald was born in Waterford where his father was medical superintendent of the local mental hospital. His mother came of the O’Halloran family of east Clare, one of whom, Sylvester O’Halloran, was one of the great Irish surgeons of the 18th century who hastened the establishment of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland.

Oliver was one of six siblings. Of the five brothers, three of whom were medical, all achieved intellectual distinction in their various careers. Being one of a brood of brilliant sibs must have inherent disadvantages but Oliver, being the eldest, quietly established his own independent identity. He entered University College, Dublin, in 1929, and already had an outstanding record in Clongowes Wood College. His student years were decorated with honours and distinctions but he had not yet acquired any terpsichorean skills so that he moved around a ballroom floor with a rugged independence, to the dismay of his partner since it bore little relation to the music.

After he qualified he veered towards the basic sciences (biochemistry and physiology) and in 1937 won the travelling studentship of the National University of Ireland. This academic vehicle, which has unfortunately fallen into disuse, enabled young graduates to travel around Europe in a manner reminiscent of the peripatetic scholars of the Renaissance. He spent a year with Verzar in Basle and so arose a lifelong productive friendship founded on more than gastroenterology. He spent almost a year with Adrian in Cambridge, later Lord Adrian [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.3] but, though he contributed to some esoteric papers on cat’s whiskers, neurology remained outside his interests.

Fitzgerald was appointed to the staff of St Vincent’s Hospital in 1940 and began a productive career in clinical research. In 1958 he was appointed to the chair of therapeutics at University College. He was the obvious choice as chairman of the new National Drugs Advisory Board in 1966, and remained in this post until he retired in 1985. He was also a conscientious member of the Medical Research Council of Ireland (now defunct) from 1957-76.

In manner he was gentle but positive in his views. At controversial meetings, if a harassed member looked to him for support it would be tendered in quiet tones. One could not conceive of him banging the table. When one of his sons was chosen as Lord Mayor of Dublin he was described as being positively coy about it. He was devoid of malice, but he would vividly recall the peccadillos of colleagues with dry humour and a twinkling smile punctuated by subdued chuckles.

Some men’s habits or enthusiasms may exceed the bounds of common acceptance, whether it be in smoking, drinking, golfing or gabbling, but Oliver’s passion was an admirable love of books - not just reading them, he had to possess them. His library was one of his major achievements. It was catholic in diversity and readily explains his erudition in so many unexpected subjects.

He enjoyed travelling to Great Britain; London held the attraction of friends and better bookshops. He attended the routine meetings of the Medical Defence Union with religious fervour. He welcomed the posts of external examiner in many centres. He was a triple Fellow of the Royal Colleges in London, Dublin and Edinburgh.

The guiding force in Oliver Fitzgerald’s life was his family. They were very united, yet each had an independence of mind which both he and his wife, Cliodna, cultivated. Fortunately, the medical tradition continued; their second son is an established rheumatologist and one daughter has also joined the profession.

DK O'Donovan

(Volume VIII, page 155)

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