Lives of the fellows

George William Hearn

b.13 Jan 1910 d.3 Jan 1995
MBE(1945) MB BS Lond(1935) MRCS LRCP(1935) MRCP(1937) MD(1938) FRCP(1968)

George William Hearn was one of the last of the generalists. He was born in London, the son of a master butcher. He was educated at Belmont College, London, and entered St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School in 1930, graduating in 1935. He was a casualty officer and house physician at St Thomas’s and later a medical registrar. Between 1939 and 1940, in the days when junior career structures were less rigid, he worked as an assistant physician at Bedford County Hospital.

With the advent of the Second World War he joined the RAMC, serving as a commanding officer and medical specialist in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. From 1943 he was a medical specialist at York Military Hospital. In 1945 he was commanding officer in the medical division of the British Military Hospital in Munster, Germany, where he remained until August 1946. He left the Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel and was awarded an MBE in recognition of his services in the war years. During his time in the Army he had shown a particular interest in the problem of infection and developed an interest in chronic lung disease.

In 1946 George Hearn was appointed as consultant physician to Dudley Road Hospital, Birmingham, now known as the City Hospital. He was one of a large number of ex-services medical specialists who were keen to take part in the developing National Health Service.

George Hearn’s enormous capacity for work and his infectious sense of humour meant that he rapidly became a popular physician. He extended his interest in chest medicine and rapidly acquired a large clinical practice. His Friday afternoon clinic was legendary and was followed by a business ward round in which he would see twenty to thirty acute medical patients who had been admitted in the previous 24 hours.

George Hearn devoted his life to the hospital which he once described as "a kind of paradise along Dudley Road". His enthusiasm for the diversity of medical problems in a poor but expanding multi-racial community was unabated. He was unable to suppress his infectious laughter and enthused both junior staff and patients. He developed an increasing interest in the problems of allergies in relation to asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and other medical conditions. His enthusiasm for the topic extended into his postgraduate activities at a time when allergic conditions were unfashionable.

In 1973 George Hearn retired from the National Health Service and devoted his energies to the care of the chronically sick in long stay medical institutions within the city. He was elected president of the Birmingham Medical Institute, a sort of independent postgraduate centre. The Institute became a thriving and busy academic centre with a large library and an extensive lecture and symposium programme. The success for the Birmingham Medical Institute in the 1980s was largely a result of his energies and humour. There were few doctors in the city who did not know George Hearn as he regularly visited his old haunts.

George Hearn wrote Dudley Road Hospital 1887-1987 (Birmingham, Postgraduate Centre Dudley Road Hospital, 1987), to coincide with the centenary celebrations. Having taken advice from the department of history at the University of Birmingham, he widened his monograph to examine the development of his beloved hospital in the light of the social, political and medical developments of the day. The history was scholarly as well as entertaining.

He married three times and was twice widowed. His first wife was Margaret Goodfellow, his second Anne Cooper. In 1957 he married for a third time, to Marjorie Warner. He had two daughters and two sons. He was at heart an optimist and was supported by his deeply held religious beliefs. He was a church warden at St Anne’s Church, Moseley, and was lay secretary of the Birmingham Diocesan Conference and a member of the Diocesan board of finance. His strong religious convictions and an outstanding ability to communicate meant that he became a prominent figure in the religious life of the city.

He will be remembered for his love of books, his enthusiasm for the topic of allergy, his terrifying driving and his sincere interest in the welfare of his own medical and nursing colleagues. He died from a stroke.

V Melikian

[Brit.med.J., 1995,310,1599]

(Volume X, page 206)

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