Lives of the fellows

Charles Gaffney Baker

b.11 June 1907 d.21 October 1969
OBE(1944) LDS RCS(1930) MRCS LRCP(1932) MB BS Lond(1935) MRCP(1936) MD(1937) FRCP(1948)

Charles Baker was born of a military family at Gillingham in Kent, the son of Alfred Charles Baker and Marion, née Gaffney. He was educated at Christ’s Hospital and entered Guy’s as a dental student in 1925, but, immediately he qualified, he turned over to medicine and took the Conjoint diploma two years later. After completing house appointments, he became Demonstrator of Physiology, a post he held for two years before becoming Medical Registrar. In 1938, he was appointed Physician at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham. In 1939, on the outbreak of war, he joined the RAMC and was posted to No. 11 General Hospital where he had the unusual distinction of remaining in the same unit throughout the period of hostilities. He served in France and Madagascar, and in the Italian campaign, attaining the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was awarded the OBE for his services.

On demobilization, he returned to Selly Oak, but his stay there was short, for in 1946 he was appointed Assistant Physician to Guy’s Hospital and so returned to his old school to the delight of his many friends. In the fifties, largely under the influence of R. C. Brock (later Lord Brock), Guy’s had become an important centre for the surgical treatment of congenital and acquired disease of the heart and it was in this environment that Baker’s chief professional interests and skills were to show themselves. The triumvirate, Brock, Campbell and Baker, contributed a great deal to the new work on the heart at that time. Baker published a succession of papers, mostly with Campbell and Brock, on the results of operation on congenital heart disease, then on the surgical correction of mitral stenosis and, later, of aortic stenosis. In 1956, he became head of the Cardiac Department.

Although much of his professional energies were taken up with the problems of cardiovascular disease, he wisely avoided restricting his interests too narrowly and he continued work as a general physician, teaching undergraduates the elements of medicine and conducting a private practice. In the wards and at out-patients, he was a popular teacher, an esteemed colleague, and a kind and wise physician. He served on the Councils of the Cardiac Society and the Association of Physicians. He was an examiner for the University of London and Vice-president of the Medical Defence Union.

His contributions to his hospital and school were not restricted to this professional work. In 1946, he was appointed sub-dean of the medical school and, in 1947, Warden of the College. The latter appointment was peculiar to Guy’s. The warden occupied a house within the confines of the college — the residency for house-officers and students — whence he guided his charges with firm, but kindly urbanity. Baker was incumbent there for twenty years and maintained, as his predecessor had done, an open house through which streamed a changing population of students, staff and old Guy’s men seeking advice, solace and hospitality, all of which were freely given. This ended only when the college was swept away to make room for the new surgical wards. In the same year, 1966, he married Jean Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. T. H. Bailey and Ellen Bailey. They moved into a pretty 18th century house in St Thomas’s Street, opposite Guy’s, where the old hospitality continued, with added warmth from a happy marriage which was tragically brief. He died in 1969.

Charles Baker was a great deal more than physician, teacher and dean. He had enormous vitality, wide learning and many interests, both aesthetic and sporting. Music held first place in his affections — especially the opera. Even a few days before he died, and grievously ill, he was in his usual seat at Covent Garden. He was an indefatigable walker on hills, skier and tennis player. He was a member of the MCC and Surrey County Cricket Club, and he rarely missed Ascot or the Grand National. He was a man of many parts and many friends.

WN Mann

[Lancet, 1969, 2, 965;, 1969, 4, 306; Times, 22nd Oct., 1969; Who was Who, 1961-70, 50; Guy's Hosp. Gaz., 1969, 83, 550]

(Volume VI, page 20)

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