Lives of the fellows

Robert Marshall

b.9 September 1889 d.20 March 1975
MB BCh BAO Belf(1912) DPH(1918) MD(1920) MRCPI(1920) FRCPI(1921) MRCP(1943) FRCP(1947) Hon FRCP Glasg(1964) Hon LLD Belf(1970)

Robert Marshall was born in Belfast, the son of W.J. Marshall, JP, and Bertha Shaw. He married Evelyn Mary, daughter of William Marshall, of Bangor, Co. Down. A medical son was killed in action. A daughter married Desmond Neill, chief biochemist at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

He was educated at the Methodist College and the Queen’s University, Belfast, obtaining first place in medicine in his year. After graduation he held the office of resident medical officer at the Royal Victoria Hospital and later went to London, where he became resident medical officer at the National Hospital for Heart Diseases. In 1914 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and served in France with the 1st and 3rd Cavalry Divisions.

Like many other young physicians expectant of an appointment on the staff of a teaching hospital, he engaged in private general practice whilst holding the post of registrar in the RVH and that of assistant physician to the Ulster Hospital for Women and Children. Gradually his interests took shape and he paid particular regard to cardiology and diseases of children, although he never gave up his role as consulting physician. One of his earliest papers in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood reviewed a series of children suffering from rheumatism, chorea and carditis. In 1932 he wrote a paper on ‘Essential Hypertension, with a Review of 100 Cases’ and these were followed by an appraisal of the heart in childhood; ‘The Effort Syndrome’ and thoughts on the ‘Punishment of Children’ (Ulst. Med. Jnl July, 1937).

In 1930 he left off Outpatients and became Physician-in-charge of Wards 5/6, the medical unit which originally was under the care of a former Professor of Medicine, James Alexander Lindsay, and which remained under Marshall’s direction until he retired to the consulting staff in 1954. The time he spent each day in his wards at the hospital, especially making electrocardiographic tracings of interesting patients under his care, was only one aspect of his deep attachment to the Royal, which was ever his first loyalty. The Centenary Year of the Belfast Medical School coincided with his turn to give the opening address to students at the beginning of the winter session, and he took the opportunity to give them a truly masterly account of the school from its earliest days in Frederick Street. This work was followed in 1959 by his Scott-Heron Lecture on "The Story of the Ulster Hospital". At the visit of the BMA to Belfast in 1937 he made himself responsible for editing all the unsigned articles included in the ‘Book of Belfast’.

His clinical lectures to students, delivered in the clinical room of his wards, had a distinctive flavour in that each one was introduced by carefully prepared references to the historical side of the subject upon which he was speaking, and he took his teaching very seriously.

The loss of his only son, Robert, who qualified in medicine in 1939 and promptly joined the Army, unfortunately only to be killed in Burma after the fall of Singapore during the Second Great War, was a grievous blow to him because between father and son there had existed a great understanding. Dr. and Mrs. Marshall generously bequeathed a room in the university medical library to their son’s memory.

Marshall was a splendid raconteur and had a phenomenal memory for classical references, with which he was wont to embroider any subject about which he was speaking. He had the knack of interjecting le mot juste on after-dinner occasions. Although his outspoken comments were not always appreciated, most of us realised the essential warmth and kindness of his nature.

One had hoped that sometime he would undertake the major task of writing up a full history of the Royal from its earliest days, but although he never did so he produced a short account of the hospital from 1903-1953 which gave an outline of some of its principal characters, achievements, and advances over this period.

RS Allison

[Brit.med.J., 1975, 2, 197]

(Volume VI, page 330)

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