Lives of the fellows

Clarence John Gavey

b.20 June 1911 d.1 September 1982
MRCS LRCP(1934) MB BS Lond(1934) MD(1936) MRCP(1936) FRCP(1948)

Clarence Gavey was born in Guernsey, the son of Walter John Gavey, Jurat of the Royal Court of Guernsey. After his early education at Queen Elizabeth College in Guernsey, he came to the London Hospital as a student in 1929. His record as a prize winner at the London is evidence of his success as a student and he very early decided on a career in clinical medicine; he qualified in 1934 and by 1936 had obtained his MRCP and, less than six months later, his MD. In 1939 he began his lifelong interest in cardiology when he published, with Sir John Parkinson, an important paper on the treatment of heart failure in the first issue of the newly founded British Heart Journal.

At the beginning of the war he went to Westminster Hospital as medical registrar but left before very long to serve in the RAMC, mostly in the Middle East. By this time he had begun the practice he continued throughout his career of recording and keeping personal notes on many of the patients he saw; these notes were referred to on many occasions in his later career when he was confronted by a similar problem. He returned to Westminster after the war and was soon appointed to the consultant staff. A year after his election to the fellowship of the College in 1948, he gave the Goulstonian lecture on ‘The Cardiology of Old Age’. Further publications followed, one of the most notable being his essay on The Management of the Hopeless Case with which he won the Buckston Browne medal of the Harveian Society of London in 1950.

Gavey served on the staff of Westminster for thirty years, acquiring greater and greater responsibilities. He was a member of the board of governors and of the academic board of the Medical School and was chairman of the committee which supervised the building of the Page Street Wing of the hospital. He was physician in charge of the cardiac department, a department he largely created, and was also physician to Moorfields Eye Hospital. His interest in and deep knowledge of medical ophthalmology added an unusual interest to the work of the general medical firm he headed.

He had always seemed to be in robust health throughout his working life and it was a great sadness to his family and all who knew him that, very shortly after his retirement in 1976, the first episode of the heart failure, from which he eventually died, occurred. Despite this, he returned, as he had planned, to Guernsey to take up his many interests. These included painting in oils, philately, playing the organ and acquiring and reading a great many books — mainly biographies and autobiographies. His greatest pleasure, however, was in his native island and he enjoyed studying its archaeology and discussing its affairs, particularly with his brother who had succeeded their father as Jurat. Although his retirement was blighted by ill health he retained his enthusiasms up to a short time before his death and kept up a correspondence with colleagues at Westminster, being always eager to learn the latest news of his old hospital.

Gavey’s career spanned a period of great change and progress in cardiology and, though not a great innovator himself, he always encouraged his younger colleagues to develop their ideas to the full. His own particular strength lay in his attention to detail in the clinical management of patients. His insistence on accurate and comprehensive clinical notes led to his being regarded as a demanding chief until his juniors realized that, however high the standards he required of them, those he set for himself were higher still. Those who worked for him for any length of time knew that, behind his stern, even forbidding manner, lay kindness itself, a very great personal and professional integrity and an unshakeable loyalty to those with whom he worked.

In 1937 he married Marjorie Guille, also from Guernsey, who survived him as did their three daughters.

PR Fleming

(Volume VII, page 207)

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