Lives of the fellows

Ronald Graeme May

b.29 June 1920 d.11 March 1982
MRCS LRCP(1943) MB BChir Cantab(1943) MRCP(1954) FRCP(1974)

Ronald May, who was consultant in chest medicine to the Tunbridge Wells and Hastings Districts was the son of a dentist, Walter John May and his wife, Violet Madge Littlejohn. He received his medical education at Clare College, Cambridge, and St Mary’s Hospital, London, qualifying in 1943. Shortly after qualifying he joined the RAMC, subsequently serving in the Airborne Division with command of a field ambulance.

He commenced his training in chest medicine, after the war, at Harefield Hospital, and was subsequently senior registrar at Yardley Green Hospital, Birmingham. His arrival in Tunbridge Wells as consulting physician in chest medicine in 1955 brought the responsibility for providing chest consultative services in both Tunbridge Wells and Hastings, in addition to the post of medical superintendent of Darvill Hall Hospital, a sanatorium situated between the two towns.

Following the death of his junior colleague in 1968 he continued to provide, single-handed, a superb chest service for Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead, still maintaining an interest in Hastings, and holding clinics additionally in Tonbridge and more recently, since the retirement of another colleague, in Sevenoaks. During the whole of his time in Tunbridge Wells he cheerfully shouldered an incredible burden of clinical commitment, involving patients from wide areas of Kent and Sussex, usually with little in the way of supporting staff and with an ever decreasing number of hospital beds. Despite this workload he was always concerned,considerate, and completely unhurried. His patients were his friends, he treated them as such, and he was as much interested in them as individuals as in their particular medical problems.

His activities were not confined to clinical medicine, as evidenced by his chairmanship of the Hastings Branch, and presidency of the Sussex Division of the BMA. For ten years he was secretary of the South East Thames Thoracic Society and a council member of the British Thoracic Society. He was a member of the Joint Tuberculosis Council and also of the South East Thames Thoracic Research Committee, and was concerned in the organization of various research projects. At the time of his death Ronnie May was chairman of the Tunbridge Wells District Medical Executive Committee.

He will be remembered for his clinical excellence and love for his fellow men, but his other memorable characteristic was his quiet, chuckling sense of humour, which he never could suppress when in the company of his family, his friends and casual acquaintances. My favourite among his never ending supply of anecdotes related to his time as a unit medical officer when he had a sergeant who insisted on carrying out his own form of medical triage. According to Ronnie, the door of the MI room would be thrown open, a group of reluctant heroes would shamble in to the accompaniment (from the sergeant) of a click of the heels, a smart salute and ‘Six cases of ’eadache, sir’.

He was a great lover of sport, a keen golfer and cricketer, and was a member of both the Nevill and the Rye Golf Clubs. He played cricket for the Bluebottles at Robertsbridge, for the Bluemantles, the Jesters and the Martlets. He believed in making games more fun for both his partners and opponents, and one always felt better for having spent some time in his company. He had a deep affection for all things beautiful in nature and the arts, and his interest in birds and flowers would cause interruptions of games of cricket or golf whilst particular species were identified and followed. His theatrical talent was much in demand when he and his family lived in Robertsbridge. He was an accomplished pianist and guitarist and was delighted that one of his children decided to take up music as a full time career.

Despite his many skills and interests his greatest joy was in his family. In 1951 he married Isobel Lindsay Mackinlay and they had four children: two boys and two girls. He was essentially a family man who took tremendous pride in the achievements of his children, and also their growing independence. It was Hilaire Belloc who wrote in one of his sonnets ‘From quiet homes and first beginning, out to the undiscovered ends, there’s nothing worth the wear of winning but laughter and the love of friends’. These words could surely apply to no one more than Ronnie May.

RC King

[Brit.med.J., 1982, 285, 300]

(Volume VII, page 389)

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