Lives of the fellows

Clifford Frank Hawkins

b.23 December 1915 d.5 December 1991
MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS Lond(1939) DA(1942) MRCP(1945) MD(1946) FRCP(1955)

Born in London, the son of Clifford John Hawkins, a business man, and his wife Winifred Anne, née Everett, Clifford Hawkins was educated at Dulwich College and graduated in medicine from Guy’s Hospital, University of London. During the war he served briefly in the RAMC before being invalided out. He subsequently worked for the emergency medical services.

In 1946 he moved to Birmingham following his appointment as medical registrar to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Here he came under the influence of Lionel Hardy, the first professor of gastroenterology in the United Kingdom [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.219], which determined the direction of his future career.

He was appointed assistant physician to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1951, with clinical responsibilities in general medicine and gastroenterology, and shortly afterwards his appointment included consultant sessions in rheumatology at Droitwich. Later he was appointed director of the rheumatism research wing at the hospital. This busy and broad clinical practice was remarkably successful, not least because of his outstanding skills in communication with patients, their families and doctors.

In gastroenterology he took a particular interest in the irritable bowel syndrome and functional disorders, where he showed enormous tolerance even with the most demanding of patients. His research interests in gastroenterology included the development of the first effective rubber-based ileostomy bag, the forerunner of modern ileostomy appliances which have transformed the lives of many patients. His published work includes studies of macrocytic anaemia in gastrointestinal disease; immunological studies of Crohn’s disease; oral glucose in the reduction of jejunostomy effluent and gluten subfractions in coeliac disease. He undertook early studies of endoscopy and bleeding peptic ulcer, in particular the role of blockers. He was the first to report intracellular organisms in both the gut and the synovial membrane in Whipple’s disease.

He wrote Diseases of the alimentary tract, London, Heinemann, 1963; co-edited Inflammatory bowel diseases, Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1983, which had a second edition in 1990, and co-authored Lecture notes on gastroenterology, Oxford, Blackwell Scientific, 1985, with Elwyn Elias. He also wrote books for the general public, including You and your guts, London, BMA, 1971, and edited a compendium of gastrointestinal humour, Alimentary, my dear Doctor, Oxford, Radcliffe Medical, 1988. His rewriting of an over lengthy book preface into succinct musical English, exactly conveying the intended message, was masterly. After editing a chapter, a comment such as ‘I have made a few minor changes here and there’ usually meant that the chapter had been completely rewritten, retyped and the author’s consent obtained - all within a few days.

He combined his interest in gastroenterology and rheumatology by studying malabsorption in rheumatoid arthritis and carried out numerous studies of synovial fluid in rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, including markers of disease activity and response to therapy. He also had an interest in cancer morbidity and mortality in rheumatoid arthritis, including lympho-proliferative malignancy.

Clifford Hawkins made major contributions to the Rheumatism and Arthritis Council, serving as the editor of ‘Reports on rheumatic diseases’ from 1959-77. He also contributed regularly to the Heberden Society whom he served as president in 1982.

His enthusiasm and good humoured communicating skills made him an excellent undergraduate and postgraduate teacher. He developed particular skills in the art of writing and lecturing. His lectures were enormously popular, combining an important message with great entertainment, humour and effortless delivery. He made light of all that he did: only a few people knew that these lecturing skills were only achieved by meticulous preparation. He encapsulated this in his book Speaking and writing in medicine: the art of communication, Springfield, Ill, 1967. For some 10 years he also wrote an illuminating monthly column for the British Medical Journal entitled ‘What's new in the new editions'.

Even his retirement was a model for us all. He stayed among friends and colleagues, continuing to lecture, edit and write, and gave unstintingly to the Queen Elizabeth Postgraduate Medical Centre, particularly to the library. He developed an interest in medico-legal affairs and was invited to write a book Mishap or malpractice to celebrate the centenary of the Medical Defence Union in 1985. He continued to publish papers concerned with medico-legal audit and malpractice and at the time of his last illness was analysing the background to patients’ complaints for the West Midlands regional health authority, with the object of identifying guidelines to minimize such problems in the future.

Clifford’s liberal views, love of good food, wine and conversation, made him an engaging member of any social gathering and he was a popular member of the Pilgrim Travellers and the Arthur Hurst Dining Clubs. At times his manner was so smooth that it seemed there must be another personality concealed beneath the veneer, but all that it ever concealed was his remarkable drive and energy. There was no arrogance or malice in his personality. He was a talented pianist and delighted in painting and fishing. His remarkable good humour and wide ranging contributions were underpinned at all times by his wife Susi and their three children - and the happy home they created together.

Perhaps one of Clifford Hawkins greatest gifts was that he found the world and its ways full of humour - meeting him invariably lifted one’s spirits.

R N Allan


(Volume IX, page 227)

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