Lives of the fellows

Eric Tom Baker-Bates

b.18 September 1905 d.20 May 1986
MB ChB Liverp(1928) MRCP(1931) MD(1933) FRCP(1950)

Eric Baker-Bates (B-B) was born at St Helens, Lancashire, the son of Henry Baker-Bates, a physician and surgeon, and his wife Edith Pennington, the daughter of Henry Pennington who was also a physician and surgeon. Throughout four centuries his family tree included physicians - and some surgeons - and his father was four times mayor of St Helens.

Eric was educated at Heaton Moor College, Merchant Taylors, and the University of Liverpool, graduating with honours and distinction in medicine and pathology. After junior house appointments he obtained his membership of the College and became consultant physician to several hospitals including Southport General Infirmary, St Helens, Warrington, and Clatterbridge. In all, he was part-time consultant to some 11 hospitals in what is now known as Merseyside. He gave a lifetime of dedicated service to the people and hospitals of Liverpool. An outstanding student, he went on to develop a passion for teaching. When he was transferred from the Southern General Hospital to the professorial unit at the Royal Infirmary he became Henry Cohen’s, later Lord Cohen of Birkenhead [Munk's Roll, Vol. VII,p. 106], junior consultant colleague and they formed a high powered teaching unit; their teaching methods may well have caused a few raised eyebrows but they were enormously effective. No one who participated in them will ever forget the Friday ‘circus’ of those days, with B-B introducing and presenting splendid clinical material and Henry dissertating on B-B’s themes. Were a student’s spirits to sink and medicine seem pointless and tedious, a few weeks under their wing would inevitably raise morale and restore enthusiasm. They may not have been able to follow B-B’s example and give their whole life to medicine, but they certainly received a strong incentive to attempt to do so.

As a teacher B-B was down to earth, simple to understand, and quick to get to the nub of a problem; he always talked about ‘the patient’, never ‘the case’. He frequently identified scurvy in many of the underprivileged patients he saw, and he would put sick elderly patients into his car and take them to hospital himself if time was important.

Early every morning, Sundays included, he would set off in his Rolls Royce accompanied by as many students as the vehicle would hold, and would work through the host of patients encountered from Southport to St Helens, and from Clatterbridge to Broadgreen, with unflagging energy and inexhaustible enthusiasm. He taught practical clinical medicine, spiced with an endless flow of anecdotes and aphorisms. Many will recall the cautionary gambit (allegedly biblical), ‘What does it profit a man if his wife is a widow?’, and ‘The Almighty is the best physician even if he hasn’t got his plate in Rodney Street.’

As an extrovert he could be infuriating and many students had phone calls at 7 a.m., always asking them to do something for a patient. They learnt to walk round the hospital at night searching for an empty bed for someone he might wish to admit.

He married Norah Stewart Kirkham in 1928 and they had five children, four sons and a daughter. The marriage was dissolved in 1954.

Although a lifelong Protestant, B-B was essentially ecumenical in outlook and a requiem mass was held in his honour at St Catherine of Siena Church, Lowton Leigh. There were troughs as well as peaks in his temperament but he was entirely without any pretensions, was proud of his St Helens background, always supported his juniors and gave unstinted service to Liverpool. His hobbies were motoring, especially sports cars, and collecting silver and furniture.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
V Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1986,292,1679;293,145; Liverpool med.Inst.,Trans.and Rep.,1975; Evening Standard 26 Feb 954]

(Volume VIII, page 14)

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