Lives of the fellows

Huw Bevan Griffith

b.21 November 1930 d.4 September 1993
MA BM BCh Oxon(1955) MRCP(1958) FRCS Eng(1961) FRCS Ed(1961) FRCP(1977)

Huw Griffith was an international authority on neurosurgery and a man of enormous energy who was a significant innovator in his own field. During his time at the Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, he built up the neurological department until it was one of the best in Britain. He was born in Tredegar, Monmouthshire, where both his parents were teachers and prominent educationalists. Huw was educated at Lewis School in Pengam, at St Paul’s School, London, and Balliol College, Oxford. He was never afraid to speak out for what he passionately believed in, a characteristic he shared with his uncle, the Labour minister Aneurin Bevan, although their political views were very different.

He first worked as a house officer at Radcliffe Infirmary and later became RMO at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford. During this time he obtained his membership of the College. His interest in neurosurgery was first stimulated when he was MO in charge of the neurosurgical unit at the Military Hospital for Head Injuries at Wheatley, Oxford, a post he held for two years. He decided to train in general surgery and was subsequently elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and also of the Edinburgh College. This was followed by a year as senior registrar in surgery at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, and after further training in his chosen specialty at the Radcliffe Infirmary he was appointed senior registrar at Manchester Royal Infirmary, later becoming consultant lecturer. Finally, in 1967 he was appointed consultant neurosurgeon to Frenchay Hospital where he worked for the rest of his life.

One of Huw’s characteristics was his multidisciplinary approach to problems before this was fashionable: anaesthetists, psychiatrists, physiologists, radiologists, and engineers all participated in his projects. He was always bubbling over with ideas, inventions and new projects while maintaining a deep commitment to medical training. Huw’s strength lay in his imagination and vision. Never content with the status quo, after intense thought, action had to be taken and a solution found. He played a large part in bringing the earliest computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scanners to Frenchay Hospital and added to their potential by developing with British Telecom the IMTRAN system for transmitting scans by telemetry.

His particular interests included the management of hydrocephalus and neuroendoscopy. He was fascinated by the potential of microsurgery and in 1980 he and his colleagues began to carry out lumbar ‘microdisectomy’, a highly effective and minimally invasive means of treating lumbar disc problems. He became particularly expert in this procedure and was able to practise on a day surgery basis. As a teacher, he was gifted and challenging and stimulated his students being himself intensely interested in medical education.

He was much in demand as a lecturer and was appointed visiting professor to many overseas universities. He wrote many papers and founded the British Journal of Neurology - while official committees endlessly discussed the question of a need for a journal, Huw Griffith simply registered the title and appointed an editor. Six years later British neurosurgery has its own voice and a very successful journal.

By instinct and heredity he was a fervent supporter of the NHS but he surprised many people when he placed himself on the same TV platform as William Waldegrave and actively supported the Tory reorganization and reforms of the Health Service. He responded by saying that his uncle would have been ashamed of the deterioration in the service and would have demanded radical action.

In his younger days he had been an athletics half-blue and a keen rugby player. Later his excess energy was directed into ocean yacht racing. He held a master mariner’s certificate and built his own boat. He married three times. First to Margo Richards Nicholas who died in 1987, secondly to Christine Berkley in 1988. His second marriage was dissolved in 1990 and in 1993 he married Rosemary Brooks. He had two children from his first marriage.

V C Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1993,307,932; Times, 13 Sept 1993; The Independent, 8 Sept 1993;The Daily Telegraph, 11 Sept 1993]

(Volume IX, page 212)

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