Lives of the fellows

Nigel John Hunter

b.15 July 1939 d.1 December 1997
MB BS Lond(1962) MRCS LRCP(1962) FRCPC(1968) FRCP(1986)

Nigel Hunter was a consultant paediatrician at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Throughout his career he was against all forms of self promotion within medicine and firmly believed that doctors and hospitals should co-operate with each other, tell the truth about themselves and admit their limitations. He regarded long waiting lists as unfair and unkind to patients and always saw extra patients to keep waiting times short. He was not interested in treading the corridors of power and there was never any competitive edge to his actions or his conversation. He found committees, and some of those who thrive in them, somewhat tiresome and one could sense his feeling of relief when a clinical problem arose which kept him away from a meeting. His decision not to see private patients or accept legal fees owed nothing to political conviction or the need to occupy a high moral ground but came from his sense of what was fair.

He began his career at Gloucester in 1975 as a single handed paediatrician, with no registrar, and at his retirement he left a department with a full complement of consultants, registrars and SHOs. In common with many district hospital paediatricians of his generation, he made the paediatric wards more responsive to the needs of children and their parents, introduced modern neonatal care, and opened up his hospital to visiting consultants in the paediatric specialities. A legacy no less important was to make his department happy and harmonious. His self deprecatory sense of humour, loyalty to colleagues and juniors, and unfailing kindness and courtesy to everyone with whom he worked, helped to make the paediatric department at Gloucester a popular place in which to work.

Born in Dorking, Surrey, in 1939, the only son of Philip Hunter, a RAF fighter pilot killed in action leading his squadron during the Battle of Britain, he was educated at Sherborne School and St Thomas’s Hospital. He qualified in 1962. He was senior registrar at UCH where he worked with Osmond Reynolds and Leonard Strang [q.v.], and had previously completed the paediatric residency programme at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where he was senior resident. At a time when many general paediatricians felt themselves capable of looking after the whole gamut of childhood illness, he quickly saw the need to develop specialization within district hospitals and for district paediatricians to work closely with those in the tertiary centres in a whole range of paediatric specialities. He developed a special interest in diabetes and was among the first district paediatricians to take over the care of all diabetic children within a district and to set up a specialized service for diabetic children. He gave his diabetic patients and their parents his home telephone number so that they could ask for advice at any time and he often acted as doctor to diabetic camps. He set up shared care clinics for visiting consultants in the paediatric specialities so that children and parents in Gloucestershire could obtain expert advice and help without having to travel long distances.

As a clinician he was safe, gentle and kind. He had a very good memory for the many unusual cases that he had seen and maintained high standards by always looking critically at his own performance. He never drew attention to his successes but preferred to regale his colleagues and juniors with descriptions of cases from which he had drawn lessons for improvement. He had a wonderful sense of humour which was often directed against himself. A strong man with no ego, he had no need to bolster himself by criticizing others. Completely devoid of any trace of humbug and hypocrisy, he found it difficult to tolerate these characteristics in others. His good manners prevented him ever making an unpleasant remark to those with whom he disagreed but when the time was right he had a deadly aim and was a virtuoso of the quiet and devastating humorous aside.

Nigel was not particularly fond of lecturing to large audiences, but he was an excellent teacher of small groups of junior doctors. While teaching he always kept to the basics of the subject and drew on his very wide clinical experience. He was an examiner for the RCP diploma in child health and organized the clinical examination in Gloucester.

Outside medicine, he was interested in travelling, the theatre and was an expert gardener. He loved taking his dogs for walks in the Gloucestershire countryside. He introduced many junior doctors to the beauty of this county. His house and garden had a magnificent view across Gloucestershire to the Malvern Hills. He hid his accomplishments and did not tell his colleagues that he held a pilots licence and had in his youth been skilled in aerobatics. He was devoted to his wife Judy and to their daughter Sarah. Nigel and Judy were excellent hosts and evenings at their house were full of laughter and enlivened by Judy’s superb cooking.

The diagnosis of disseminated cancer of the colon took away his much longed for retirement. It was typical of Nigel, that after telling his colleagues about his diagnosis, he apologized for the inconvenience that this would cause them because the duty rota had to be altered over the Christmas period. He lived to see his daughter gain her degree and get married shortly before he died. Few could not have been moved to see him walk with her up the aisle. Completely in character, he gave an excellent speech, both funny and moving, at the reception.

Arriving at the hospital in a car that was well past the bloom of youth, with his plastic mac, upper class vowels and unforgettable laugh, he was a man who was loved as well as respected. He knew the outlook of his illness and faced death with an honesty and calmness that were the product of an outstanding personality.

David Stevens

[Brit.med.J., 1998,316,782]

(Volume X, page 243)

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