Lives of the fellows

Cyril Wyllie Kesson

b.20 July 1914 d.4 October 1974
MB BS Lond(1939) MRCS LRCP(1939) MRCP(1942) MD(1948) FRCP(1961)

Cyril Kesson was born in Keith, Scotland, the son of John Elrick Kesson, a medical practitioner, and Sarah Moncur Wyllie of Aberdeen. He was educated at Dulwich College and Guy’s Hospital Medical School graduating MB BS in 1939. After holding junior hospital appointments at Guy’s Hospital and at associated hospitals he joined the Royal Air Force in September 1942, being commissioned as a Flying Officer in the medical branch. After 2 years’ service at Princess Mary’s RAF Hospital at Halton, during which time he attended specialist courses in tropical medicine and hygiene, he was posted to No 9 RAF Hospital Calcutta, India, where he served under Wing Commander Kenneth Robson who subsequently became Registrar of the Royal College of Physicians in London. Such were the qualities of Cyril Kesson’s service in the RAF that he was selected for a permanent commission, but refused this offer. His final posting in the RAF was in Singapore and he was released from the Service in 1946 with the rank of Squadron Leader.

The RAF, however, did not intend him to escape altogether and in January 1951 he was appointed Civil Consultant in Paediatrics to the Royal Air Force, a position which he held until his death in 1974. During this period he served the RAF with great distinction, visiting hospitals and units both at home and abroad, admitting children with difficult problems to his own wards at St George’s Hospital for further investigation and treatment, and undertaking the training of large numbers of young medical officers in paediatrics. Probably his greatest contribution to the Service was, however, his concern for the management of, and educational arrangements for, handicapped children in service families. The important principles he laid down for family care are remembered and continually practised. His achievements were given formal recognition in 1972 when he was elected President of the United Services Section of the Royal Society of Medicine and delivered the President’s address in June 1974 entitled "No Medals for Survival", in which he traced the impact of social and environmental factors on the newborn infant.

On demobilisation from the RAF in 1946 Cyril Kesson decided to embark on training for a career in paediatrics although he would have undoubtedly been equally well qualified to pursue a career in adult medicine, in which he had considerable experience, having ended his service in the RAF as advisor in medicine to the Principal Medical Officer in the Far East. He therefore obtained an appointment as senior registrar in Paediatrics at Guy’s Hospital and later continued his paediatric training as first assistant to the Paediatric Department at St George’s Hospital. In 1948 he was appointed consultant paediatrician to St George’s Hospital and the associated Victoria Hospital for Children, Tite Street, and also consultant paediatrician to Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children, Carshalton. He served both these hospitals untiringly throughout his career and played a major part in establishing the Paediatric Department of St George’s at Tooting when the Victoria Hospital was demolished. His writings in the medical press reflected his wide interests, ranging from fetal paroxysmal tachycardia to eosinophilic granuloma and diabetes mellitus.

His major contribution to paediatrics, however, was in the field of developmental and handicapping disorders, and especially in visual defect. In 1956 he was appointed part-time consultant paediatrician to the Royal National Institute for the Blind. For the next 18 years until his death he gave continual help to parents and staff at the Sunshine Homes of the RNIB and visited all homes at least once a term, seeing the children who were pupils and interviewing new applicants with their parents.

He was a member of many medical associations and societies including the British Paediatric Association, the Royal Society of Medicine, the Society of Apothecaries, becoming liveryman and freeman of the City of London in 1962, and the Hunterian Society of which he was Councillor, Secretary, Editor of the proceedings, Vice-President, and finally President in 1969. His presidential address was on the subject of "Changing Childhood".

As a teacher Cyril Kesson was concerned not only with undergraduate education at St George’s, where he became a recognized teacher of the University of London, but also with the teaching of postgraduates and nurses. His rather reserved manner prevented some people from getting to know him well and in his latter years he was considered by some to be rather aloof. Even to his friends and colleagues he seemed to be a man who often "walked alone". Nevertheless, under this exterior he retained a quick sense of humour and a capacity to ask the sudden unexpected question which kept his students on their toes. His regular ward round of some of his more chronically ill and handicapped patients at Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children, Carshalton, was always a highlight of his students’ firm -and not only because it ended up with a sumptuous tea at his home. His recreations included bird watching and walking and he enjoyed reading and collecting old books on social history.

On the 18th of June 1949 Cyril Kesson married Rosemary Graham, herself a medical practitioner with a strong basis of medicine in her family, ranging from a brother practising thoracic surgery in Rhodesia to a cousin who is a Professor of Neonatal Medicine in the USA. They had two children, a daughter who became a teacher, and a son who followed his parents into medicine, qualifying at St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School.

Cyril Kesson had his first severe heart attack in 1970, but courageously returned to work and continued with all his many and varied duties until his death from a second attack in 1974.

June K Lloyd

[Brit.med.J., 1974, 4, 474; Lancet, 1974, 2, 1028]

(Volume VI, page 267)

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