Lives of the fellows

Calvert Merton Gwillim

b.26 October 1899 d.2 September 1972
MRCS LRCP(1921) MB BS Lond(1922) DPH(1923) MD(1924) MRCP(1925) FRCS(1927) FRCP(1940) FRCOG(1942)

Calvert Merton (David) Gwillim was the only son of Rhys and Matilda Gwillim. He spent his childhood in Ceylon where his father worked as an engineer on Government railways but returned for his schooling to South Wales. He became a medical student at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, qualifying MRCS, LRCP in 1921 and obtaining the MB, BS London with distinction in obstetrics and gynaecology in 1922. Subsequently he held resident appointments at St. George’s Hospital, first as house physician to J.A. Torrens and afterwards as medical registrar, then the only post of its kind in the hospital. After a period as a surgical resident at the Leicester Royal Infirmary he returned to London and obtained appointments as registrar at the General-Lying-in Hospital, York Road, the Samaritan Hospital for women, and St. George’s Hospital. Later he was elected to the Honorary Staffs of these hospitals. Also for varying periods he held honorary appointments at the Maidenhead Hospital, the Bushy Heath Hospital, and the Weir Hospital, Balham. His academic and professional attainments included MD London in both gynaecology and medicine (1924), DPH (1923), MRCP (1925) and FRCS (1927). He was elected FRCP in 1940 and FRCOG in 1942. A formidable list even at a time of multiple degrees and diplomas, it fairly reflected his remarkable intellectual grasp of almost every branch of clinical medicine.

Gwillim was elected to the staff of St. George’s in 1936. Already as registrar and tutor he had gained a considerable reputation as an obstetrician, a surgeon, and a teacher. His teaching was marked by a cynical view of examinations in general and a penetrating insight into the conflicts of dogma which made the finals in obstetrics and gynaecology something of a gamble for even the best prepared students. In contrast, his own views were lucid and rational and devastatingly critical of woolly thinking. He did not engage in formal research and wrote little, but his descriptions of technique in textbooks remain a permanent and highly regarded record of his contributions to operative surgery. Better still, were the opportunities of watching him at work. His dexterity was exceptional, his movements were precise and delicate and guided by a clear-cut and orderly mind. A vaginal hysterectomy or a prolapse repair was an unforgettable didactic exercise.

Gwillim’s personality was complex. Essentially kind, he was often bitter and capable of saying cruel things which discomforted those who did not know him well, and caused some of his friends to believe erroneously that his early life had been harsh and possibly pernicious. Politically of the left, he enjoyed private practice, but made no concessions to obtain it. An advocate of the NHS, he was critical of its workings, but made no attempt to reform them and took little part when they were debated in the colleges of which he was a fellow. He had a great affection for St. George’s, and a warm feeling for his colleagues in spite of differing acutely from most of them in his view of life and society. He taught his junior staff well and was kindness itself in his efforts to further their professional careers. An appreciation of Chinese porcelain and jade which he collected, albeit with a slight sense of guilt, and an abiding delight in the Gower peninsula gave him some of the serenity and happiness that he otherwise lacked. He was twice married and had one son.

MIA Hunter

[Brit.med.J., 1972, 3, 706; Lancet, 1972, 2, 608; Times, 5 Sept 1972]

(Volume VI, page 212)

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