Lives of the fellows

Denis Cyril Lewin

b.31 July 1915 d.26 June 1984
BSc Lond(1937) MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS(1939) MD(1946) MRCP(1946) FRCP(1972)

Denis Lewin was born in Croydon, Surrey, the son of George Lewin, a medical practitioner, and his wife Georgina Frances, née Pecker. It was George Lewin who succeeded in indentifying the Croydon epidemic of the 1930s as typhoid fever.

Denis was educated at St Anselm’s, Croydon, and Tonbridge School. In 1934 he entered the medical school at Guy’s Hospital and by 1936 he had distinguished himself by coming first in his class, and winning prizes for general proficiency and anatomy. He was selected as a student-demonstrator in anatomy and pathology, and passed his preliminary FRCS(Eng) examination at his first attempt. After obtaining a BSc in physiology in 1937 he began his clinical studies. He was a consistently outstanding student and would have been assured of a house appointment at Guy’s but for the outbreak of war in 1939. Denis was a keen member of the Senior OTC at Guy’s and immediately accepted his call-up papers, joining the RAMC and serving with the 1st and 8th Armies as RMO with the Honourable Artillery Company in Africa and Italy. He recalled these years of comradeship, and the demands on his medical skill, with a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. In keeping with his character, he toiled on through the long years of the war, always giving excellent service but never allowing himself to be promoted or transferred.

On demobilization in 1945, while at the RAMC College at Millbank, he obtained his MD and his membership of the College. From February-July 1946 he served as house physician at Guy’s, working with Marshall [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.381] and Hampson [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.216], both of whom he had come to respect greatly as a student. He could have stayed on at Guy’s and taken his place on the staff in due course, but he preferred to launch out on his own. He was appointed registrar at Churchill Hospital, Oxford, and this enabled him, after only two years, to obtain a consultant post in general medicine for the Rhymney and Sirhowy hospital management committee. He found himself in a highly populated mining area which was relatively deprived of the medical services available in more favoured places. Denis set to work to improve the standard of health care for the country people in the valleys. He devoted the whole 35 years of his professional life to this cause and was never deflected from it, as some others might have been, by offers of work elsewhere or - in particular - by the chance of a move to an academic career for which he was well equipped. His insistence on the need for reform at first provoked the hostility of his local hospital management, yet the same administrators later gave him the respect and support he deserved. Unfortunately, their efforts could not grant him the fulfilment of his hopes and advice. For years he worked single-handed, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no relief. Even when away with his wife for the weekend they would often have to return following an urgent telephone call. They never went anywhere without leaving a phone number where they could be contacted. He had medical beds both at Tredegar and Caerphilly Miners’ Hospitals, and had hoped that a second consultant might be appointed to share the burden of routine and responsibility in the valleys and, also, for the integration of the two hospitals with the teaching hospitals in Cardiff, so that specialist visits, junior staff interchange and student teaching might be developed. Unfortunately, Tredegar Hospital was taken out of his area and so he remained without a consultant colleague until he retired in 1979, but he lived to witness the start of the integration of specialties and staff in the Cardiff hospitals with those of Caerpnilly.

Denis was twice married. His son Michael, by his first marriage, is an executive with British Airways. His second wife, Sylvia, whom he married in 1947, is a consultant gynaecologist, now retired, and they had three children: Peter, Gillian and Jacqueline. Peter is a chartered accountant in Jersey, Gillian took a PhD in clinical psychology and is now an Australian citizen, and Jacqueline is a medical practitioner specializing in anaesthetics.

For most of his life, following his first serious illness at the age of 39, Denis was dogged by ill health but he never allowed it to interfere with his work, and never complained. He was a retiring man with few social skills. He was shy of recognition and praise. He made diabetes his special interest for study and research, but had few hobbies or activities outside his work. Until his illness in 1939 he had been a keen sportsman, but following a series of operations he ceased to take an active role, apart from an occasional game of golf. However, he continued to take an interest in all sports, to work in his garden and to enjoy walking. His other interests, outside work and family, were history and listening to good music. He suffered a succession of distressingly painful conditions during the later years of his life and was often depressed and upset by the heavy sedation in his last illnesses, but few people were aware of this.

Denis Lewin retired reluctantly at the age of 63 and moved back to live among the people he knew and loved around Hengoed, near his first home in the valleys. During his last illness he was admitted to Caerphilly Hospital, his own base where he had worked for many years and where he was known, respected and loved by many of the staff. In their devotion to him during his last days it was plain that they were paying their own tribute to his work, and their own debt of gratitude to him personally for all he had done for their folk in the valleys.

He was survived by his wife Sylvia, his four children, and his sister Audrey.

F Lunn

[, 1984,289,329]

(Volume VIII, page 278)

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