Lives of the fellows

Robert Parkin Kemp

b.12 May 1908 d.27 November 1989
TD MB ChB Liverp(1930) MD(1934) MRCP(1936) FRCP(1965)

Robert Kemp was born in Toronto, Canada, the son of Ralph Olantigh Kemp, described as a ‘gentleman’ by profession - a term once used to indicate independent means. Robert was educated in England, at the King’s School, Chester, and Liverpool University. He graduated in medicine in 1930 and after various house posts was appointed a medical registrar at Liverpool Royal Infirmary. Having joined the Territorial Army in 1938, he was called up into the RAMC on the outbreak of war and saw active service in West Africa, Europe and India, from 1939-45. He was discharged with the rank of lieutenant colonel and awarded the TD. From 1946-75 he was visiting physician to Walton Hospital and Newsham Hospital, Liverpool. His main interest was in gastroenterology and he was one of the first in Liverpool to use a gastroscope, nicknamed by his patients as ‘the lights’.

He was given to plain speaking and his remarks were often pointed and sometimes cryptic - diplomatically translated for patients by his staff. His work with peptic ulceration led him to crusade against smoking, alcoholism and obesity which he regarded as diseases of personal mismanagement’. He wrote extensively on these subjects and cooperated closely with Merseyside Council on Alcoholism and with Alcoholics Anonymous. He wrote well and his pamphlets in the Family Doctor series were very popular: obesity, alcohol, asthma, strokes and heart disease were among his subjects.

His other great crusade was care of the elderly. When he was appointed to Newsham Hospital, in 1946, Victorian workhouse conditions still prevailed and he was active in introducing new ideas such as getting patients up to sit in comfortable chairs, providing bed screens, fish tanks, budgerigars and other diversions, thus anticipating future trends in the care of the elderly. He was a strong supporter of the Liverpool Medical Institution and served on its council and as vice-president; he was elected to life membership in 1980.

Robert married Norah Smith in 1939 and they had four children. His leisure interests included a passion for offshore cruising. He built his own boat, cruised extensively in the Irish Sea and wrote a book on navigation with aerial photographs to show harbours: Irish Sea cruising guide, London, Coles, 1976. He hired a light aircraft and took the photographs himself. Another hobby was collecting watches and he became one of the country’s leading authorities. His book The Englishman's watch, Altrincham, Sherratt, 1979, has become a classic on the subject and contains photographs of examples in his collection.

V C Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1990,300,673-74]

(Volume IX, page 291)

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