Lives of the fellows

Geoffrey Vernon Balmforth

b.20 September 1924 d.12 March 1989
MB BS Lond(1952) MRCP(1958) MD(1964) FRCP(1971)

Geoffrey Vernon Balmforth was the son of an analytical chemist in Birmingham and was educated at King Edward’s Grammar School. In 1943, during the second world war, he joined the South Staffordshire Regiment at Wolverhampton and saw active service in Europe. He also served in the army of occupation in Germany after the cessation of hostilities.

After demobilization he studied medicine at Charing Cross Hospital medical school and then decided on a career in hospital medicine. He was appointed senior registrar at Sheffield Royal Infirmary, where his interest in gastroenterology was encouraged by the late H P Brody [Munk's Roll, Vol.VIII, p.56] . This interest was to lie dormant for ten years until the spread of fibreoptic endoscopy reawakened it. In 1965 he was appointed consultant physician at Doncaster. In the late 1960s he became aware that it was necessary to promote effective medical management and he considered the possibility of using computers to achieve this. Despite considerable effort on his part, little progress could be made. Now, 25 years later, at the time of his death, many of his unpublished concepts are being implemented and endorsed as the right way ahead for hospital physicians.

In the early 1970s Geoffrey Balmforth was quick to appreciate the potential of both fibreoptic endoscopy and carefully performed barium studies in improving gastroenterological care. He went to Tokyo to study the subject, and then enticed one of their bright young gastroenterologists to work for a year at Doncaster; laying the foundations of a first class gastroenterology unit of lasting benefit to the hospital.

In contrast to his clarity of vision and effective decisions on major issues, his discourse - albeit witty and articulate - could frequently be circuitous and seemed indecisive; a trait which protected him from over involvement in committee work. He was dedicated to his junior staff and made great efforts to ensure their progression to higher posts; many of his ex-registrars are now consultants.

Unhappily, his first marriage failed after twenty years. When their only child, a daughter, left home, he and his wife separated and were eventually divorced. Geoffrey married again and this brought him much contentment. Outside his work, he was greatly interested in sculpture and design, which had an irresistible fascination for him, and he practised these arts in his home and garden.

Geoffrey’s manner was always gentle and considerate, but never subservient. He died after a protracted illness which, two years earlier, had forced him to retire from his posts of consultant physician at the Doncaster Royal Infirmary and honorary clinical lecturer in medicine at Sheffield University. After the diagnosis of his final illness was made, he and his wife Kate suffered the agony of watching the continued escalation of the white cell counter. During one of his relapses, he agreed to talk to a group of medical students; all found it a moving experience and were full of admiration for a man who could not only be objective, and knowledgeable, but also amusing on the subject of his own mortal illness. It may have killed him but he was never dispirited by it.

H C Smyllie

[Brit.med.J., 1969,298,1640]

(Volume IX, page 21)

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