Lives of the fellows

Geoffrey Flavell

b.23 February 1913 d.28 November 1994
MRCS LRCP(1937) FRCS(1940) MRCP(1941) FRCP(1973)

Geoffrey Flavell’s career as a thoracic surgeon spanned the development of the discipline from the surgical treatment of tuberculosis to cardiac surgery. He was born in Wellington, New Zealand, and attended Waitaki and Otago schools. After studying at Otago University he chose to complete his medical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, qualifying in 1937. He had house appointments with Geoffrey Bourne [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.53], and on the surgical professional unit with Sir James Paterson Ross and Sir Thomas Dunhill. At the outbreak of the Second World War he volunteered for service with the RAF, but the director general of medical services advised him to complete higher qualifications before enlisting. He took his FRCS in 1940 and, after a brief period as a surgeon to the emergency medical services, was appointed resident surgical officer to the Brompton Hospital where he worked under Tudor Edwards and Sir Clement Price Thomas [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.382].

He joined the RAFVR in 1942 and was soon posted to Carthage as a surgeon specialist at the beginning of the Sicilian campaign. He was later posted to Algiers. At both postings he established - in the face of considerable opposition from his commanding officer - the first units providing saline bath treatment and early skin grafting of burns. He ended the war as an officer commanding the surgical division of No 5 RAF General Hospital, Cairo, where he was also adviser in surgery to the RAF Mediterranean and Middle East Command.

In 1946 he worked briefly as a registrar at Harefield Hospital, before being appointed as a senior registrar to the department of thoracic surgery at the London Hospital. A year later he was appointed as a consultant thoracic surgeon to the Broomfield Hospital in Essex and to the British Legion Hospital at Preston Hall in Kent. In 1947 he became a thoracic surgeon to the LCC and in 1950 joined the consultant staff of the London Hospital where he served for the next thirty years. Much of his work, from the 1950s onwards, was concerned with cancer of the lung. He was one of the first doctors to denounce cigarette smoking as a cause of cancer.

He wrote books and contributed articles up to his retirement in 1978. His book Introduction to chest surgery was published by the Oxford University Press in 1957, and The oesophagus, in 1963 by Butterworths (London). One of his most notable articles outlined his discovery that section of the vagus pathways from a lung lesion abolished permanently all the phenomena of hypertrophic pulmonary osteoarthropathy [Lancet, 1956, Vol.i, p.260-262].

He was in demand as a lecturer to medical societies both in this country and abroad, where he was the guest of universities in Japan, USA, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Egypt. In 1961 he returned to the University of Otago to lecture to the medical school there. In 1970 he became head of the department of cardio-thoracic surgery at the London Hospital. From 1970 to 1978 he was chairman of the advisory committee on cardio-thoracic surgery to the North East Thames Regional Health Authority.

He had wide interests, including literature and the arts. He was a member of the Johnson Society. He was elected as a Chevalier de la Confrerie du Tastevin de Bourgogne in recognition of his articles over the years on food and wine.

He married Joan Adams in 1943. Shortly after his retirement he bought the beautiful Palladian mansion of Belfield on the outskirts of Weymouth and delighted in entertaining a wide circle of friends. He died of cancer of the prostate.

RCP editor

[The Times, 29 Nov 1994; The Daily Telegraph, 20 Dec 1994; The Independent, 23 Dec 1994; Brit.med.J., 1995,3 10,933]

(Volume X, page 142)

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