Lives of the fellows

Frances Violet (Dame) Gardner

b.28 February 1913 d.10 July 1989
DBE(1975) BSc Lond(1935) MB BS(1940) MRCS LRCP(1940) MD(1943) MRCP(1943) FRCP(1952) FRCS(1983)

Frances Gardner had a lifelong association with the Royal Free Hospital. After qualification and various junior hospital posts she was appointed a consultant physician in 1946. Although, at that time, she was very much a general physician she was in effect the cardiologist to the hospital, introducing angiocardiography to this country on her return from a travelling fellowship in the USA. She built up the cardiology department until it had a deservedly high reputation and, in spite of all the demands on her time from other hospital and medical school activities, remained throughout her career a clinician first and foremost.

She was the youngest of three daughters of Sir Henry Gardner, for many years Conservative MP for East Berkshire, and had her early education at Headington School, Oxford, where she clearly showed her outstanding abilities. From there she went to Westfield College, London University, where she took a BSc in mathematics and chemistry before starting medicine in 1934.

Whatever Frances (Fanny) Gardner undertook she did well and she took care to understand the underlying principles of every skill, whether it be medical or otherwise. She served the Royal Free in several different ways: as a consultant for 32 years, as dean from 1962-75, and as president of the medical school until her death. She had a phenomenal memory and an excellent filing system. This, together with a remorseless logic expressed in the shortest possible way, made her a notable dean, an effective chairman, and a formidable opponent for woolly thinkers or the less well briefed. Her look of contempt for an ill-prepared argument was unforgettable and was used equally on students and colleagues.

She was without rancour and would accept a contrary point of view provided it was backed by reason or fact. She was totally without self-interest and her decisions were guided solely by what was best for the school and hospital as an integral institution. She found it difficult to delegate and accepted an ever increasing workload, never neglecting her clinical duties, as the deanship became more and more demanding with the local problems of the rebuilding of the Royal Free at Hampstead.

The last minute cancellation of the adjoining medical school building as a result of the Todd Report and the eventual salvaging of the wreckage into the original aim of a combined preclinical and clinical school was achieved as a result of single handed negotiation and determined lobbying in a wide variety of government and university circles.

While Fanny Gardner’s public persona was formidable at first sight, in private she was thoughtful of others, devoted to the students and extremely generous to them both in terms of time and money. When travel was difficult or expensive, she and her husband, George Qvist, would ferry students back and forth to the sailing club in Essex. As houses in a road near the hospital became vacant, she bought them up and converted them into student accommodation which she let out at rents which only covered the maintenance costs. She was frugal and hated waste.

She took a keen interest in the stockmarket, keeping two firms of stockbrokers in active competition with each other. Her main outside interest was gardening and she was a well known figure on the Highgate allotments where she made regular deliveries of farmyard manure, usually in a converted milk float but occasionally in her Rolls Royce. All fallen branches were gathered, sawn and burnt at home as firewood. One of my most enduring memories is of her sitting on an upturned log, nursing a chainsaw, and giving a rundown on the various attributes and failings of candidates for the presidency of the College.

She married her surgical colleague George Qvist in 1958 after a long friendship which gave rise to the usual student rumours, surprisingly repeated by one of her obituarists but later withdrawn. Although possessed of an original mind, she was a firm believer in conventional mores. Her marriage brought considerable fulfillment to her life. She served on numerous committees and her professional life reached its zenith when she was created DBE in 1975. Unfortunately her last few years were clouded, first by the death of her husband and later by increasingly troublesome physical disabilities which she refused to allow to overcome her.

In her Will she left the bulk of her large estate to provide student accommodation at the Royal Free; the hall of residence purchased as a result, being commemorated as Frances Gardner House.

E D R Campbell

[Brit.med.J., 1989,299,318; The Lancet, 1989,II,341; The Independent, 4 Aug 1989;The Guardian, 25 July 1989]

(Volume IX, page 189)

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