Lives of the fellows

William Gunn

b.28 May 1897 d.18 January 1968
MA(1919) MB ChB Aberd(1924) MRCP(1927) DPH Lond(1931) FRCP(1944)

William Gunn was born in Caithness, of yeoman stock and one of a large family. His father was a County Councillor; an elder brother became Town Clerk of Aberdeen. Before entering Aberdeen University he went to local schools, and he often paid tribute to the soundness of this early education and a knowledge of the humanities which stayed with him all his life.

After house appointments in London - at the East End Hospital for Children, the Metropolitan Hospital and Victoria Park Hospital - Gunn became an assistant medical officer in the Metropolitan Asylums Board in 1927, and began his career in the field of the infectious diseases, which, later, included hospital management.

From the Park hospital he moved to the North Eastern as deputy medical superintendent, and, in 1937, to the North Western, in Lawn Road, Hampstead, as physician superintendent. He remained there until his retirement in 1962. Among his duties was the teaching of visiting students from University College Hospital. The war added to his responsibilities when as a result of enemy action two other hospitals found shelter beneath the roofs of Lawn Road. This was a period of considerable physical and mental strain, despite which Gunn remained as energetic as ever, taking particular interest in the control of cross-infection.

The hospital became a part of the Royal Free Hospital in 1948, and Gunn ceased to be medical superintendent, continuing as medical director of the infectious disease department, and becoming a consultant in his specialty, with increased lecturing commitments. He had long been interested in the construction of breathing and resuscitation apparatus, and devised his own before the use of such equipment became common.

Not a prolific writer, he contributed to most of the medical journals and to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the British Encyclopaedia of Medical Practice. His lecture notes, detailed and always up-to-date, were outstanding, serving as textbooks in the epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment of the infectious diseases which the students valued so much. As a teacher, his approach was often unconventional but his ability to create and maintain interest resulted from his wide knowledge of his subject, together with that of history and the humanities. This always came to the fore when friends partook of his lavish hospitality at Bartram Lodge and their general knowledge was put to the test.

Gunn could be impetuous and intolerant of mediocrity, insisting on the high standards which he set himself, and many did not find him easy to know, and sometimes to follow in moments of excitement. His ready wit and sense of humour were never far away while there was an ever-present kindness which patients, staff, students and friends in great number remembered. His appearance was striking, even more so after he became completely bald at the end of the war and would not wear a wig. This colourful and erudite physician spent his last years in the home of the Clan Gunn, to which he gave much support.

HD Chalke

[, 1968, 1, 321; Lancet, 1968, 1, 253]

(Volume VI, page 211)

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