Lives of the fellows

Reginald Cyril Lightwood

b.28 January 1898 d.26 May 1985
MRCS LRCP(1921) MB BS Lond(1922) MD(1924) DPH(1924) MRCP(1925) FRCP(1936)

Reginald Lightwood was born in Croydon, the son of John Mason Lightwood, barrister, whose somewhat austere bewigged features looked down from a large sepia photograph in the office from which Reggie directed, with much skill, the paediatric unit at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School.

Lightwood was educated at Monkton Combe School. After service in the Royal Artillery, during which he was severely gassed in 1917, he studied medicine at King’s College Hospital and qualified in 1921. He was a formidable athlete as a student and he retained a spare and vigorous physique throughout his long life. His distinguished career as a paediatrician spanned almost 60 years and in each phase he made particular and distinct contributions to the specialty.

In 1939 Reggie Lightwood was cast in the mould of the successful London consultant. He had gained the MD in 1924, his MRCP in 1925, and was elected Fellow in 1936; he held honorary appointments at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, and at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. He was recognized as an able clinician and had published several well regarded research papers. He was an influential member of the eleven year old British Paediatric Association and was established in private practice - an occupation for which he did not greatly care. He was never a charismatic teacher, but did not entirely deserve his placement within the ranks of those given the title of ‘shifting dullness’. The 1939-45 war was a time of heavy clinical and teaching commitments for Reggie, and he added to his inner London work a regular and beneficial paediatric presence at several Emergency Medical Service hospitals in the North West Thames region.

The second phase of Reggie’s paediatric career began when St Mary’s Hospital Medical School made the innovative decision to create an academic unit of paediatrics with Lightwood as part-time director. Under his management the infant unit soon became a model for excellence in teaching and research, and demonstrated that paediatrics could stand worthily with the giants of medicine and surgery. Reggie’s particular skill was in identifying important issues, whether to do with the details of the immediate management of a patient, the selection of staff members, the arrangements of a visit overseas or, more broadly, about the development of child health services and the teaching of paediatrics. Once satisfied (often after much consultation) as to the correct course of action (or masterly inaction) he was happy to delegate implementation to a degree regarded as unconventional at that time.

Important investigations into metabolic disorders in infants, and original descriptions of renal acidosis and infantile hypercalcaemia, gained him a well deserved international reputation as a man of paediatric science. His far-sighted interest in preventive and social aspects of paediatrics brought many invitations to advise on child health services and paediatric education in developing countries. In due course he became honorary treasurer and then president of the British Paediatric Association - responsibilities that he carried out with meticulous attention to detail and yet with considerable flair for innovation and necessary change. Curiously, some of his British colleagues regarded him as somewhat indolent, indecisive and devious; characteristics which could not have been at greater variance from his true personality and performance. He was a shy, reserved man who did not readily disclose his feelings or thoughts; he could appear pedantic and obsessional, and his humour was quiet and concealed. Any deficiency in communication skills vanished when he was abroad,and he was a most delightful person with whom to travel, being relaxed, well informed, generous and resourceful.

He retired from his hospital and university appointments in 1963, and for the next 20 years had an extraordinary career as a global peripatetic professor of paediatrics. From 1964-65 he was at the American University of Beirut; from 1966-69 he was at the University of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from whence he became visiting professor at the University of California Los Angeles. A spell as consultant paediatrician to the International Grenfell Association, Newfoundland, took him into the 1970s, and he later became paediatrician to the Missionary Training School in Drogheda, Republic of Ireland. Before finally ‘retiring’ to England he spent some years in Menorca, where he is said to have still practised. At the age of 85 years he attended Comitia for the election of the president, and was an active participant at the annual general meeting of the BPA in York, the year before his death at a retirement home in Surrey, near to one of his sons who became a consultant surgeon. He married Monica, daughter of Lauranee G Ray, in 1937 and they had two sons.

TE Oppe

[Brit.med.J., 1985,290,1991-92; Lancet, 1985,1,1461; The Times, 10 June 1985; St. Mary’s Hosp. Gaz., 1964,70,26-21]

(Volume VIII, page 282)

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