Lives of the fellows

Hugh Walker Gordon

b.5 August 1897 d.11 December 1987
MC BA Cantab( 1922) MB BCh 1 r( 1926) MRCP( 1928) FRCP(1940)

Hugh Gordon was born in Maxwellton, Kirkcudbrightshire, the son of H Sharpe Gordon, a solicitor in Dumfries. His forbears for many generations had been lawyers in southern Scotland. After his education at Marlborough he immediately went into the Army, being commissioned in the RFA, and was wounded and invalided out in 1918. He won the Military Cross. During his Army period in France thoughts of a career in medicine gained strength but after the war he entered Pembroke College, Cambridge, with a history exhibition. Once there he changed and read natural sciences.

He had no particular reason for choosing to go to St George’s Hospital but he won a scholarship to the medical school there and that determined the site of his clinical studies. After qualification and the usual house jobs, he thought of specializing in medicine. In fact he obtained the coveted post of resident medical officer for one year, but by then it had been suggested to him that there was a future in dermatology and he was partly influenced by Wilfrid Fox [Munk's Roll, Vol. V,p. 140].

He married Jean Robertson at St George's, Hanover Square, and decided to go abroad for postgraduate studies. At this time the great medical centres of Europe were an essential part of dermatological training and he spent six months at the St Louis Hospital, Paris, living with his new bride in a little apartment not far from the hospital. There was only one other English speaking student in his group. He came under the spell of the great French morphologists, and indeed consulted Sabouraud personally as a patient, who proved successful where other previous consultants had failed. Hugh Gordon became greatly interested in radiotherapy, then a relatively novel procedure, and he studied this technique, acquiring a skill which was later to prove useful in consultant practice. Three months in Vienna followed the Paris visit, and then he returned to London where he quickly obtained three hospital appointments, at St John’s Hospital, Lewisham, the Shadwell Children’s Hospital and the East Ham Memorial Hospital. There was soon to be a vacancy at St George’s and it was assumed that Hugh was the likely appointee. He joined its staff in 1933 as assistant skin physician, relinquishing his three previous appointments but adding two others - the West London Hospital and the Cancer (now the Royal Marsden) Hospital in Fulham Road, both prestigious and central appointments.

In 1939 Gordon was appointed sector dermatologist to the EMS Sector Seven which entailed weekly visits to a number of hospitals, but he also became the lynch pin at St George's at Hyde Park Corner, not only as physician but also as administrator and acting dean of the medical school. The inpatients had mostly been evacuated westwards. so the empty wards were available to receive air-raid casualties. It was not an easy time for teaching but it had to continue; clinical material was short and improvisation was the key. Without doubt, Hugh enjoyed this period and was very effective in wearing his various hats. After the war he continued for a time as acting dean. In fact it was he who was responsible for the introduction of female students from Cambridge to St George’s, and a very talented collection they proved to be.

At this time Hugh was living with his family at Wimbledon, in a house with a fairly large garden which allowed him to indulge in his agricultural interests; his smallholding of cows, pigs and poultry was a prolific producer and many of his friends benefited from the welcome home grown produce which supplemented the meagre rations which still prevailed.

A busy consulting practice which included three hospitals was characteristic of the peripatetic life of a dermatologist at this period and Gordon much valued his association with the Cancer Hospital, where he became expert at treating the various skin malignancies, and it was here that his previous interest in radiotherapy proved valuable. He contributed the relevant section in Mitchell-Hegg’s [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.341] Modern Practice of dermatology, London, Butterworth, 1950.

He soon became intrigued by the possible role of hypnosis in the treatment of various skin conditions and with the assistance of Kathryn Cohen and S Mason, he undertook a study and presented the results to the 1952 International Congress in London, a paper which attracted considerable attention.

Gordon and his family had now moved to Queen Anne Street and his private practice was flourishing. In 1963 he was president of the British Association of Dermatologists, and also president of the dermatological section of the Royal Society of Medicine. He was chairman of the medical staff committee at St George’s for three years and was also on the board of governors, at a particularly critical time for the hospital if it was to survive and evolve in the new London medical scene.

His father had retired from legal practice at the age of 55, moving south and acquiring a large house at Yateley in Surrey. On his father’s death, Gordon moved to Yateley and was again able to indulge his agricultural interests. He cultivated asparagus, but his attempts to produce eggs with a low cholesterol content proved unsuccessful! Once his children had married and left the family home, he retired from active practice and decided to return to his old haunts and lived happily with Jean in the High Street, Kirkcudbright. He was not far from his son, Graham, who ran a successful fish farm.

Hugh Gordon was a remarkable and apparently ageless figure, notable for his slim and upright physique, handsome coutenance and somewhat authoritarian voice. He was one of a close knit group of post war (1914-1918) Cambridge men who entered St George’s Hospital, most of whom were appointed to the consultant staff, and throughout his time there he was a devoted and dedicated servant of the hospital and medical school.


[Lancet, 1989,1,56]

(Volume VIII, page 193)

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