Lives of the fellows

William Eric Gibb

b.30 April 1911 d.13 July 1992
BA Oxon(1933) BM BCh(1936) MRCP(1940) MA(1941) DM(1947) FRCP(1949)

Eric Gibb was born in the British Legation in Peking. His father, James Glenny Gibb of the London Missionary Society, was surgeon at the Peking Union Medical College and had volunteered to go and fight a serious outbreak of pneumonic plague at Harbin in Manchuria. This undermined his health and led to his death when Eric was only 18 months old. Eric’s older brother died just a week later.

Brought back to England by his mother, they made their home in Oxford. Eric went to the Dragon School in Oxford, then to Rugby and subsequently to Oriel College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1933 with first class honours in Natural Sciences. He was also proxime accessit in the Theodore William scholarship in anatomy. He entered the medical school at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and after qualifying became house physician on A E Gow’s firm [Munk's Roll, Vol.IV, p.564]. In 1938 he took up an Oxford travelling scholarship to study haematology at schools in Scandinavia.

At that time he was contemplating a possible career in pathology but in August 1939, when war was imminent, he returned to England. For the next eight months he worked at the Brompton Chest Hospital as house physician to F H Young [Munk s Roll, Vol.VI, p.483]. He then spent a short time in the EMS before joining the medical branch of the RAFVR in 1941. He later became a medical specialist, working first at the Central Medical Establishment and then as wing commander in charge of a medical division at an RAF hospital in the UK from 1945-46. On demobilization in 1946, he returned for a brief period to his previous interest as demonstrator of pathology at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford but other opportunities were to arise at his old teaching hospital.

In the same year he became a chief assistant in medicine at Bart’s and in 1947 he was appointed to the senior staff as assistant physician. In 1952 he became a full physician at Bart’s and was also appointed physician to the Metropolitan Hospital. He continued in both these appointments until his retirement in 1976. He also undertook much work for the War Pensions Tribunals. For some years he was an examiner in medicine for the College, as well as for the Conjoint board and the Society of Apothecaries.

At Bart's, Eric Gibb was probably the last general physician to be appointed among an increasing number of super-specialists. His own interests were wide but he involved himself particularly in the study of hypertension and he started a hypertension clinic which is still in existence. It now has one of the largest computerized patient-data bases for hypertension in the United Kingdom, some of the patients having first attended when he was physician in charge.

He encouraged research by his junior colleagues and a paper published jointly with three of them in The Lancet, on a comparison of the effectiveness of reserpine, methyldopa and bethanidine, is still quoted in the literature on the treatment of hypertension [Lancet, 1970, VoI.ii, p.275-277]. Those who worked for Eric Gibb found him to be a considerate chief and a kindly, shy and self-effacing man. Some felt that in his courtesy and reticence he too often allowed himself to be overshadowed by more assertive colleagues on the staff.

Much of Eric’s time and energies, however, were devoted to the care of his youngest son who suffered from cystic fibrosis but lived courageously for 30 years. He had two other sons; one now a member of the College and the other a master at Manchester Grammar School. Eric was wonderfully supported by his wife Mary, née Feetham, whom he married in 1952 and who was herself a doctor. In their Highgate home they shared a keen interest in gardening.

After his retirement they continued to entertain their friends there and they also regularly attended meetings of the Highgate Literary Scientific Institute. He and his family often spent holidays at his house on the North Wales coast. His health deteriorated during the last few months of his life and he died at home in London from a cardiac infarct.

ECO Jewesbury

(Volume IX, page 194)

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