Lives of the fellows

Hugh-james Bowen Galbraith

b.28 Oct 1924 d.17 Sept 1993
MB BS Lond(1947)DRCOG(1948) MRCP(1950) MD(1950)FRCP(1970)

Hugh-James Galbraith was the son of Douglas Hugh Aird Galbraith and Hannah Bowen née Jones. He was born in Launceston, Cornwall, where his father was a general practitioner who had a ward named after him in the local hospital. His mother, the daughter of a farmer and manufacturer of Welsh blankets, had been the hospital matron. Hugh-James was proud of his Celtic origins and could provide evidence of an impressive family tree extending back to Robert the Bruce. He was educated at St Petroc’s, Bude, and Epsom College - where he was house prefect and served in the Home Guard. In 1942, with an Epsom College scholarship, he entered St Bartholomew’s Hospital medical school, University of London, to study medicine. During the war the pre-clinical school was accommodated in the University of Cambridge, with the majority of students living in Queen’s College. After qualification his first post was at Bart’s wartime hospital at Hill End, St Albans, as house physician to A W Spence and Neville Oswald, whose interest in endocrinology and respiratory medicine shaped his own career. He was selected for service with the RAF but a suspect chest x-ray prevented his active service. He returned to Bart’s, in London, initially as intern and extern midwifery assistant during the course of which he was awarded the Bentley prize for house surgeons. He then embarked on his specialist training as medical chief assistant to Spence and Oswald and was fortunate in being able to continue his training at two other London hospitals; first as chief assistant to Una Ledingham [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.241] at the Royal Free and then as senior registrar to Sir John Richardson, later Lord Richardson, at St Thomas’ Hospital. He subsequently returned to Bart’s as casualty physician and medical tutor. Hugh-James married Joan née Ackroyd, in 1949 and they had three daughters.

In 1961 he was appointed consultant physician to the Chelmsford hospital group and worked at the Chelmsford and Essex, St John’s, and Broomfield Hospitals in Chelmsford, and at St Michael’s Hospital in Braintree. His career at Chelmsford was a splendid blend of clinical medicine, research, education and administration, complemented by an extremely happy family background. He was one of the last of the real general physicians with an encyclopaedic knowledge of medicine in all its aspects, an impressive but sympathetic bedside manner, and four special interests; endocrinology, diabetes, chest medicine and care of the elderly. His first challenge as a consultant was the reorganization of the diabetic service and he paid particular attention to the needs of pregnant diabetics. He had a long-standing interest in therapeutics which contributed to his broad based knowledge across all specialties. He undertook clinical trials of a variety of newly developed antibiotics, particularly for the treatment of chest infection, and he had a lifelong interest in the problems of the elderly. With Michael Hamilton and James Swallow he conducted the first controlled trial of early mobilization following myocardial infarction, with no harmful effects, and his textbook Practical therapeutics, London, Lloyd-Luke, 1962, aimed at clinical students, succeeded in its aim to bridge the gap between pharmacological theory and clinical practice. His arrival in Chelmsford coincided with that watershed of postgraduate education, the Christchurch Conference held in Oxford in 1961. Chelmsford became a flagship of the movement, with Hugh-James the coordinator, and later chairman, of the medical education and research trust fund-raising committee. Chelmsford soon had one of the first postgraduate centres in the country, Hugh-James being the first clinical tutor, 1962-68. He organized comprehensive programmes for both postgraduate and continuing medical education and arranged some of the first undergraduate attachments to district hospitals from teaching institutions, in this case from The London. He was equally concerned with the educational needs of nurses, being chairman of the Melvill Sheppard Fund for trained nurses, which was set up in 1957, until he retired from medicine in 1989.

He was an examiner for membership of the College from 1981-90, a member and finally chairman of the standing committee of members from 1966-70, and regional adviser for the North East Thames region from 1973-81. He served on the College working party on the prison medical service and represented the College on various external committees including the British Pharmacopoeia Commission, the Supra-regional Assay Service, and the Royal College of Psychiatrist’s working party on self poisoning. He was equally involved in local and regional administration, having been at various times chairman of the Mid-Essex branch of the BMA and the Mid-Essex medical advisory committee; he was also a member of the district management team and vice-chairman of the regional medical advisory committee.

His wife Joan, who died in 1986, had developed a great interest in the prison services and the welfare of inmates and she actively encouraged Hugh-James to develop similar sympathies. He worked with the board of visitors to HM Prison, Chelmsford, which he joined in 1981 and became its chairman for three years until 1989.

Tall, always immaculately dressed, with early greying hair, he was described by one of his colleagues as a veritable eminence grise. He retained a certain old world formality in his relationships with staff and colleagues but his choice of bow ties indicated a more flamboyant side to his personality, particularly on festive occasions when formal patterns were enhanced by rotating or even flashing mechanisms. Some successful professionals may succeed at the expense of their families, but not so Hugh-James. Joan and their three daughters, Mary Anne, Kirstie and Janet, were always at the centre of his life. He loved his home and made it more interesting with his various collections and his ready sense of humour - he had a fund of limericks. He was a caring and generous father and a loving husband and grandfather. After Joan’s death, Hugh-James spent two years on his own but was then fortunate in being able to marry Marjorie, a long standing friend and retired hospital administrator. They had three happy years together before his illness became debilitating, when Marjorie cared for him devotedly. R C King


(Volume IX, page 187)

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