Lives of the fellows

Robert Roland Hughes

b.1 July 1911 d.18 March 1991
MB ChB Liverp(1937) MRCP(1940) MD(19412) FRCP(1963)

The son of a Liverpool master printer, Robert Hughes, neurologist, attended Liverpool Collegiate School. He spent two years in his father’s business and attended the Liverpool College of Art before accompanying his elder brother into the Liverpool medical school. When he graduated in 1937 he had won seven out of ten possible undergraduate medals (his brother won the rest) and not unnaturally became houseman to the then professors of medicine and surgery, Henry Cohen, later Lord Cohen [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.106] and Sir Robert Kelly.

During the war he served in the RAMC in India, Normandy and Egypt as well as the UK. He was demobilized in 1946 with the rank of major, as a medical specialist and graded neurologist. Apart from this period Robert never left Liverpool in a professional capacity. He was a self-made neurologist who never worked at Queen Square or any other well known neurological establishment. His achievement was the more remarkable because he was the first clinical neurologist in Liverpool and he, single handed, gradually built up a service at the Royal Southern Hospital where he was appointed consultant physician in 1946. Although he had been Cohen’s registrar from 1938-40, Robert Hughes’ progress in neurology was not an easy one.

For many years after his appointment at the Royal Southern Hospital the Liverpool medical establishment held to the tradition of the general physician who could deal with any disorder of any body system; the notion of specialists in the nervous - or practically any other - system was heavily frowned upon.

During almost two decades he was the only neurologist in Merseyside and North Wales. He was later rewarded to see his pioneering efforts burgeon into the Regional Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery at Walton Hospital. He was a clinical lecturer at the University's faculty of medicine from 1946-78 and again had the satisfaction of seeing, after his retirement, the establishment of a university department of clinical neurological science.

He had an enduring interest in electro-encephalography. It would not have escaped the notice of the historian in Robert Hughes that the subject had been virtually invented in Liverpool by Richard Caton just before the turn of the century. Robert Hughes' book Introduction to clinical electroencephalography, Bristol, Wright, 1961, was a landmark publication based on a prodigious collection of records. Were it not for his multitudinous hobbies it might have been said that neurology was his life. After his retirement from the NHS he carried on a thriving medico-legal neurological practice which endured until his brief final illness.

Before leaving for the war in 1942, Robert had married Mary née Cadman Smith in 1941; a nursing sister from Liverpool Royal Infirmary. They had two daughters and a son; one daughter is a physiotherapist.

Robert was a voracious reader with interests extending far beyond medicine. Not content with all this, he was a talented wood carver - his tridimensional Penfield cortical homuncolus would grace any museum. He had learned to play the piano early in life and continued to play for the rest of his days. Later in life he took up woodwind - the flute at 60 and the bassoon at 72, and played in several amateur orchestras. Robert Hughes was an intensely private man. He refused all the offices that might so easily have come to him on the local and national medical scene. His work, his hobbies, his family and his cottage in Wales filled the 18 or more hours of every 24 during which he was awake.

D Bowsher

[, 1991,302,1460;The Independent, 27 Mar 1991]

(Volume IX, page 253)

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