Lives of the fellows

Robert Roger Henderson

b.10 July 1910 d.23 August 1996
MB BS Lond(1934) MRCS LRCP(1934) MD(1936) MRCP(1936) FRCP(1968)

Robert Roger Henderson’s career was based in Kenya, where he was private physician to a series of governors. He was born in Bristol. His father, John Porter Henderson, hailed from Ulster farming stock and became a senior civil servant. His mother, Jane Audrey, was the daughter of an art furnisher and dealer. Henderson was educated at Bristol Grammar School where he studied classics, but, after one year in the sixth form, he apparently accepted a challenge from his father that medicine might provide a valuable career. This change of tack involved private tutorials - one of his tutors was William Joyce who was notorious during the Second World War as Lord Haw-Haw.

Henderson entered St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School in 1929. Following preclinical studies he worked in the medical unit under Owen de Wesselow [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.101], clerked’ for Sir Maurice Cassidy [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.528], and ‘dressed’ for Sir Charles Max Page. He qualified with the conjoint diploma in 1934 and gained honours in midwifery and gynaecology in his MB BS examination. He was appointed as a casualty officer and subsequently house physician to the medical unit of St Thomas’s. He passed the MRCP examination and obtained the University of London MD degree in 1936 -whilst working at the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Lungs at Victoria Park. In 1937 he returned to St Thomas’s as registrar to Sir Henry Letheby Tidy [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.414]. In 1939 he became resident assistant physician there and was awarded a Dorothy Temple Cross travelling fellowship.

The onset of the Second World War interfered with his plans to spend a year in the USA. He remained at St Thomas’s where he was largely responsible for organizing the hospital on a war basis. During 1940 St Thomas’s was seriously damaged by enemy air activity. Although morbidity and mortality occurred amongst the nursing and physiotherapy staff, and junior house officers, all patients miraculously escaped without injury. Although anxious at this time to join the RAMC, Henderson was directed to become deputy sector hospital officer in group VIII section - the headquarters of which was situated at Kingston-upon-Thames. This was an administrative post concerned with the evacuation of patients from London. His work also involved the organization of specialist ‘flying teams’, staffing several peripheral hospitals, and providing a day/night focal point for the medical services of some forty hospitals in London and Surrey. Although he remained in this post throughout the war years, de Wesselow arranged for him to become an assistant to the St Thomas’s diabetic clinic (involving a weekly ward round), thus keeping him in touch with clinical medicine. Following cessation of hostilities in Europe, Henderson remained for a few months at St Thomas’s as chief assistant to the medical unit. He was then commissioned to a short service appointment in the RAMC as medical specialist to the Palestine Command - which included Transjordan and Cyprus.

In late 1947 he returned to England, but the following year joined the Kenya Medical Service and was posted to Nairobi as locum for the medical specialist, then on leave. In 1949 he joined a group practice in Nairobi, and the following year was invited to enlist with a group of consultants (which constituted the Nairobi clinic) with whom he remained throughout his years in Kenya.

Henderson also became physician to HH the Aga Khan, the Kenyatta Memorial Hospital, and the Nairobi and Mater Misericordiae Hospitals. In addition he was appointed consultant physician to the British Military Forces and the Church Missionary Society (of which he subsequently became vice-president) in East Africa. He was chief medical officer to the Norwich Union and Prudential Insurance societies, and, from 1948 until independence in 1965, became private physician to the family (and guests) of governors of Kenya. He had a broad-based and multi-racial private practice.

Henderson had numerous other interests, apart from his professional ones. Medical consultations in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika (subsequently Tanzania) involved flying in small chartered aircraft and he became proficient at low-flying game spotting in the game parks of east Africa. He sang as a bass in the Nairobi cathedral choir for some 25 years and was at various times a member of the cathedral parish council, provost’s warden, and a member of chapter. He was also interested in the theatre and photography.

In 1940 Henderson married Patricia (Deborah), daughter of a company director. His wife was a St Thomas’s trained nurse. They had two sons and one daughter. Patricia made full use of her nursing training in Nairobi and worked at the Misericordiae convent and the leading girls convent school.

Henderson was essentially a conservative man and was not a noted innovator. In 1949 he published his only research papers - on the use of sulphones in the management of pulmonary tuberculosis in Africans, on hypoglycaemia, and on venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism - all published in the East African Medical Journal.

In 1976 Henderson returned to London, becoming senior examiner for the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. He finally retired in 1983 - living successively at Petworth, West Sussex, and Thetford, Norfolk. He and his wife retained links with a wide circle of Kenyan friends.

G C Cook

(Volume X, page 209)

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