Lives of the fellows

Frank James Fowler

b.1 October 1911 d.2 April 1981
CBE(1974) OBE(1945) TD(1938) MB ChB Birm(1935) MRCP(1970) FRCP(1976)

Frank Fowler was a medical administrator of high calibre, whose influence on the National Health Service during the formative phase, and again after its reorganization, was considerable.

He was born in Smethwick and educated at King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and at Birmingham University, where he graduated in 1935. He was elected MRCP under Bye-Law 117 in 1970 and FRCP in 1976. He held house appointments at the Birmingham General Hospital and in other hospitals in the Midlands. His first appointment as a medical administrator came early in his career: as a locum medical superintendent in Hall Lane Hospital, West Bromwich, where he had held a house appointment earlier. No doubt this helped to shape his very distinguished career in the Army Medical Services, along with his experience in his university’s officers’ training corps, where he rose to the rank of sergeant-major.

At the beginning of the war he became medical officer to a unit of the Royal Engineers, as a territorial, and was evacuated from France in 1940. From then on he progressed rapidly through various staff appointments to the post of ADMS Allied Command in the Mediterranean, reaching the rank of full colonel at the age of 33, and being awarded an OBE in 1945, on top of the Territorial Decoration which he had received in 1938, with clasps in 1951 and 1957.

After demobilization and a period of clinical postgraduate training, again in the Midlands, his gifts as a medical administrator led him almost as a matter of course into the higher administrative strata of the developing National Health Service. He began in the Oxford Region in 1948, became deputy senior administrative medical officer of the North East Metropolitan Hospital Board in 1951 and senior administrative medical officer of the North West Metropolitan Board in 1958.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Frank readily accepted the importance of fully collaborating and integrating with his fellow chief officers, and particularly with his administrative colleagues. This was a major reason for his being so well informed about what was happening in the Regions, although he himself did not venture out a lot into the field. One of his administrator colleagues has described him as ‘being able to see around every corner’. This capacity, along with its directness at times and his sense of humour, which was misinterpreted by some as sarcasm, undoubtedly made him some enemies.

In the 1974 reorganization of the National Health Service he was transferred, as regional medical officer, to the Yorkshire Region. This was not of his own volition, but his experience and outstanding capability were highly appreciated in the North, where his successful adaptation seemed to give him a new lease of life. When he retired at the age of 65 he and his wife returned to London. He was re-employed at DHSS for some four years with the nominal rank of senior medical officer, but with far greater knowledge of and influence on the service than his rank would suggest. During this period he suffered a severe heart attack one night, and characteristically would not allow his wife to call a doctor until the morning, and not before he had shaved.

Frank influenced the national scene in many ways. He was for some time chairman of the Group of Senior Administrative Medical Officers and later of the Group of Regional Medical Officers. In 1974 he was awarded the CBE.

When the formation of the Faculty of Community Medicine was mooted in 1968, he was one of the two regional medical officers in the small group which prepared the ground. He played an invaluable part in the formative years up to 1972, and as first treasurer of the Faculty was one of its most influential members in the early years.

Frank’s personality presents something of an enigma. He appeared as a very modest and reserved man, yet his years as a medical student present a very different picture. Treasurer of the hospital carnival, secretary of the Student’s Union and of the Guild of Undergraduates, and a member of the court of governors two years before he qualified. His assessment of others, an essential prerequisite for his post, was searching and fair, his integrity and discretion were absolute. Jo (née Kennedy), his charming wife, sums him up like this: ‘My own memory of him is of a very private and shy man, but, oh, what fun to be with!’.

WG Harding

[Brit.med.J., 1981, 282, 1883]

(Volume VII, page 193)

<< Back to List