Lives of the fellows

Oliver Garrod

b.22 January 1915 d.23 September 1983
MBE(1945) MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS Lond(1946) MRCP(1947) MD(1948)

Oliver came from a family with distinguished medical predecessors, including Sir Alfred Garrod his great grandfather and Sir Archibald Garrod his great uncle. Sir Lawrence Paul Garrod, the bacteriologist, was a distant uncle. His father was an organic chemist. Oliver’s sister, Hilary, married AC Frazer FRCP.

When he left Bradfield College where he was captain of athletics, he went to St Bartholomew’s Medical College and as a student he won the Brackenbury scholarship in medicine and wrote an outstanding essay on The life of Samuel Jones Gee’ for which he won the Wix prize. It was published in Bart’s hospital reports.

He qualified in 1939 with the conjoint degree just before war was declared. He was already a member of the Territorial Army and immediately war broke out he went into the RAMC, first serving as regimental medical officer to a motor cycle battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, subsequently volunteering to go overseas. Whilst on training with the regiment in Derbyshire he met his future wife, Barbara Morrison, and they were married on New Year’s Day 1941. The next day he sailed to India. He was posted to Rawalpindi where he had the opportunity to buy a number of Persian rugs, a hobby that had started in England and continued for the rest of his life. In the summer of 1941 he was sent to the Persian Gulf and served first in Basra and then Shaiba where he was staff captain medical.

He had a great longing to visit Persia and went there on leave twice in the winters of 1941 and 1942 respectively, travelling on the trans-Iranian railway. From Tehran he reached the Caspian Sea on the second visit. He later did a course in malariology and subsequently worked in a field laboratory on malaria, based in Baghdad, surveying the incidence of this disease in northern and central Iraq.

In 1943 he was invited to form a medical dispensary to work amongst the nomadic tribes of south west Persia. This had both political and medical implications. The ulterior aim was to keep the tribes on the side of the Allies at a time when German infiltration in Persia was rife. He and his Persian interpreter with three British other ranks penetrated deep into the mountain ranges of south west Persia and stayed with the chieftains of several nomadic tribes. He collected a considerable amount of material about the tribes which he communicated to the Royal Central Asian Society after his return to England in 1945.

When his health broke down (he contracted pneumonia after infective hepatitis and malaria) he returned to Tehran to act as medical officer to the British legation for three months prior to repatriation. For his invaluable services he was awarded the MBE in 1945.

After demobilization he returned to Bart’s to resume a broken appointment as house physician to the medical unit and subsequently became chief assistant to AW (Patrick) Spence, who specialized in endocrine diseases, and Neville Oswald, chest physician.

During the two years 1946-1948 Oliver passed in succession MB BS, MRCP and MD. He became interested in diabetes insipidus and worked with Joseph Cates on this subject, publishing articles in Clinical Science and other journals. On the conclusion of the appointment at Bart’s he went to the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith, working with Russell Fraser, who also specialized in endocrine diseases. In 1951 he obtained a Rockefeller foundation scholarship to visit the United States for one year, and spent this working under Cecil Loeb at the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York.

After returning to the United Kingdom, he went to the Middlesex Hospital where he worked in the clinical research department under Professor Kekwick. He worked on primary aldosteronism, with Tait and Simpson, and published several important papers on this subject. He continued this attachment at the Middlesex, after he had been appointed consultant physician to Barnet General Hospital in 1955, up till 1959. He remained at Barnet and Potters Bar Hospitals until retirement in 1980. He started a clinic for treating and supervising patients with hypertension in the early days of drug therapy for this condition, and he also organized a first class diabetic service. Oliver was an excellent clinician and had great compassion for his patients.

He was a member of several medical societies, being secretary and vice-president of both the endocrine and clinical sections of the Royal Society of Medicine and a keen member of the Medical Society of London. He was very attached to the Hunterian Society to which he was in succession secretary, orator and president. He made his Hunterian oration on ‘Hibernation of mammals’ which was a landmark in the history of that society. He was inspired by John Hunter’s interest in this subject. He contributed regularly to the Medical Annual, writing the chapter on endocrine diseases.

His interest in Persia continued. He was a member of the Iran Society and a loyal friend and counsellor of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, formerly the Royal Central Asian Society. He went on a number of expeditions with that society to Anatolia and Afghanistan but did not return to Persia until 1978 when he helped to organize a three week tour. Although Oliver travelled extensively throughout the world, his first love was Asia to which he repeatedly returned. His last visit was to India and Nepal with the Society in 1980, shortly after retirement.

His interests were wide and he had a great knowledge of the arts. His home became a gathering place for friends who went to admire his lovely garden, his antiques, Persian miniatures and particularly his Oriental rugs. He loved Bach and Mozart and was a keen pianist. Oliver and his wife were very hospitable, she as an excellent cook and Oliver with his choice vintage wines. After meals it was his custom to show his colour slides of his most recent holiday. His slide presentations were also a regular feature of the Ladies’ Benevolent Fund functions in Barnet. He had a keen interest in gardening: all his plants were choice.

Going round to his home at lunchtime from the hospital he would do a little weeding whilst drinking a glass of sherry with his houseman. How unfortunate for Bart’s that they did not appoint him when they had the chance to do so; they obviously did not recognize the strength behind his bland manner.

His last two and a half years brought out his fundamental courage in face of adversity, already shown in his career and particularly during the war years. A brain biopsy operation was followed by a total left hemiplegia from which he never fully recovered and he led a wheelchair existence thereafter. Although radiotherapy helped to a certain extent he remained an invalid, and during the early months of 1983 it was apparent that his disability was steadily progressing.

He had many friends in many walks of life. His wife Barbara, his son who is a lecturer in psychology at Glasgow University and his daughter, an architect, who also lectures in English at Zurich, survived him.

KWGG Heathfield

[Brit.med.J., 1983, 287, 1559]

(Volume VII, page 204)

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