Lives of the fellows

Geoffrey (Sir) Marshall

b.23 April 1887 d.9 August 1982
KCVO(1951) CBE(1951) OBE(1917) MB BS Lond(1911) MD(1920) MRCP(1920) FRCP(1928) Hon FRCPI(1965)

Geoffrey Marshall died at the age of 95 years. He was physician to Guy’s Hospital and the Brompton Hospital, as well as consulting physician to King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, and the Hospital of St John and Elizabeth.

The son of Henry Marshall of Bognor, he was educated at St Paul’s School and Guy’s Hospital, qualifying in 1911. He became a demonstrator in physiology and medical registrar at Guy’s Hospital. When war broke out in 1914 he served in the RAMC as medical officer in France, and was in charge of the severely wounded transported by barge on the inland water transport unit. Thanks to his earlier specialization in physiology, he improvised means of administering gas and oxygen anaesthesia to these patients by a method which was the forerunner of Boyle’s apparatus. For his services in France he was appointed OBE, and was twice mentioned in despatches.

It was in hospital in France that he met Belle, a theatre sister, whom he married in 1918 a few days before the armistice. At the end of the war he was appointed physician to Guy’s, with special interest in tuberculosis, and from then on he became one of the leading physicians in diseases of the chest.

At that time pulmonary tuberculosis was prevalent and required treatment by prolonged periods of bed rest. It was in caring for these patients that Geoffrey’s outstanding qualities showed themselves. His personal interest and encouraging care helped many patients through this frustrating period. In 1934 he was invited to join the staff of the Brompton Hospital. He was quick to adopt new and more active forms of treatment such as artificial pneumothorax, and later furthered the introduction and use of streptomycin; he was appointed chairman of the clinical trials committee of the Medical Research Council. He early appreciated the value of thoracic surgery and worked closely with his surgical colleagues. He took a leading part in the formation of the Thoracic Society, which was formed to bring together all those concerned in the treatment of thoracic diseases.

During the second world war Geoffrey was physician in charge at the Brompton Hospital, sleeping either at the hospital or in the cellar of his house in Hampstead during the air raids. His unperturbed presence was a comfort to many at this time of uncertainty. It was then that he lost his son in Africa, a young officer in the Rifle Brigade. He was their only child, and Geoffrey and his wife Belle bore this tragedy with wonderful courage.

During the war he had the responsibility of looking after Winston Churchill, who had an attack of pneumonia and needed firm and urgent treatment at a critical stage of the war. Later, in 1951, Geoffrey was to have further heavy responsibility looking after King George VI when Clement Price Thomas operated on him for bronchial carcinoma. While staying in Buckingham Palace to supervise the King’s recovery after the operation, he was knighted by the King. One of Geoffrey’s treasured possessions was a letter from the King, written in his own hand, expressing his gratitude for all that Geoffrey had done for him.

In 1949 Geoffrey gave the Harveian oration, his title being ‘Individuality in medicine’.

At Guy’s Hospital his easy manner with the students resulted in many lasting friendships. He enjoyed their company and had many happy - and sometimes noisy — parties with them at restaurants in the evening, after his visits to the wards. He was naturally hospitable and he and his wife Belle made everyone welcome in their home. Their Christmas party at Hampstead was renowned; a fir tree growing in their front garden was decorated for all to enjoy.

Having spent part of his youth in the Sussex countryside he was always happy to spend holidays in the country. Cornwall was one of his favourite places, where he and Belle enjoyed golfing day after day on the course by the sea, and when seagulls flew off with his ball he only laughed. In London, he found great relaxation watching the ballet and he was a frequent visitor to art exhibitions.

His long and close partnership with his wife ended when Belle died in 1974. After this he was more retired, although still in touch with many friends.

In 1979 he married again, to Joan Wilson Brown. Once again more tragedy befell him; after two months of happy married life Joan became ill and died a few weeks later, early in 1980. Geoffrey was then becoming disabled with arthritis and increasing deafness, so he decided to give up his home. Shortly afterwards he was welcomed at King Edward VII Hospital at Midhurst, where he spent his last years in a flat in the hospital for which he had done so much. Up to the last he was mentally alert and enjoyed visits from many friends, and even visited Goodwood races a few weeks before his death.

All through his distinguished career, Geoffrey remained his unostentatious, courteous and kindly self.

A Margaret C Macpherson

[, 1982, 285, 567 & 749; 285, pp. 1780-1783 ‘A doctor in the Great War - an interview with Sir Geoffrey Marshall’, Dr Barbara Evans (cassette tape of full interview, No T70, 1966, in RCP Library); Lancet, 1982, 2, 506; Times, 12 Aug 1982]

(Volume VII, page 381)

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