Lives of the fellows

Howard Martin Fleet

b.8 January 1950 d.29 January 1994
MB BS Lond(1972) MRCS LRCP(1972) MRCP(1976) DCH(1976) FRCP(1992)

Howard Fleet, a consultant paediatrician at Wycombe General Hospital, died in an avalanche in France at a tragically early age. He was born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, and educated at Merchant Taylors School. He went on to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital Medical School. After qualifying he became a senior house officer at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children in Brighton, and was a registrar and then senior registrar at King’s College Hospital, London. He then went out to South Australia to begin work as a senior medical registrar at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital.

He was appointed as a consultant paediatrician at Wycombe General Hospital in January 1983. From the day of his appointment his immediacy and directness of manner made a great impact. He had greatly admired the training in South Australia where senior registrars were rotated through specialist departments. He used this extra training to great effect in chest medicine, endocrinology and gastroenterology. Howard was not the type of man just to set up a chest clinic. He also joined the local asthma campaign and when it showed signs of faltering took over as chairman, running two local branches and extending the reach of the hospital into the community. At the time of his appointment a decision was made to sub-specialize to some extent within the department and Howard took over all the children receiving chemotherapy. He took an enormous personal interest in the welfare of every child, making sure they had the appropriate treatment and that setbacks such as infections or febrile neutropenias always had the best treatment. In his determination to look after the children he not only saw them in the hospital but frequently visited them at home. When things seemed hopeless he would never accept a bad prognosis without making exhaustive enquiries as to whether other treatments such as a bone marrow transplant or the newest drug might not be appropriate. When away for a length of time he would often phone his secretary to make sure that all was going well with a difficult case.

We joined together over the management of the neonates and Howard enhanced our capacities for caring of the ill new-born, improving standards of neonatal ventilation and introducing total parenteral nutrition.

He was active in the administration of the hospital, as well as of the department. He joined the medical records sub-committee of the hospital, becoming chairman. He foresaw the importance of information technology and was a tireless advocate in the restructuring of the hospital so computer terminals would be available at all points of use.

He took on the post of department clinical tutor and greatly enlarged our departmental library which will be his permanent memorial. His enthusiasm as a teacher led to his appointment as regional adviser in paediatrics. At a time of difficult change he fully grasped the problems of the middle grade throughout the Oxford Region and re-organized the distribution of registrars. His understanding of the problems of each department was so full that he had no difficulties having his plans carried through. Soon after his appointment he organized a very successful membership teaching course which has been continued by others.

Howard had a big personality. With his strong character and his direct approach there were times when we disagreed about how the department should be run. Whatever the outcome of these disagreements he never bore a grudge of any kind. He was the ideal colleague with whom to discuss a difficult problem. He was generous hearted, intelligent and very quick thinking. He was always on the go, looking for new ideas and new projects. When faced by a difficult problem he would always look at it squarely and deal with it straight on. Once when away the back axle of his car broke. He had it repaired at night time by a garage and returned. Once the telephone to a resident’s bedroom became inoperative at a weekend. This proved no problem for Howard who mended it with a few staples, a bit of sellotape and an extension lead. The re-installed telephone worked for several years before a final repair was carried out.

Outside the hospital his great loves were sailing and skiing. He was a keen offshore sailor and in our calendar Cowes week had always to be pencilled in. Skiing was his other great outdoor pursuit and in both sports he took a special delight in the excitement of speed and adventure. He was the paediatric teacher to a group of general practitioners who went skiing, combining learning with fun. Howard took the teaching side of these expeditions very seriously. I have no doubt that those who went with him both learnt a lot and had fun at the same time. It was during an off-piste skiing expedition with a guide that Howard and his party were overwhelmed by an avalanche. It was difficult for those of us who heard the news to imagine that such a powerful big hearted man could ever be overwhelmed by a snow drift, however big. He is survived by his wife Carole and their two sons.

C H Cheetham

[Brit.med.J., 1994,308,1434]

(Volume X, page 144)

<< Back to List