Lives of the fellows

Richard Mayon Mayon-White

b.15 December 1915 d.2 November 1984
MRCS LRCP(1940) MB BS Lond(1940) MD(1949) PhD(1949) MRCP(1949) DCH(1949) FRCP(1964)

Richard Mayon Mayon White was born in Boreham, Essex, the son of R H White, an electrical engineer, and Jane, née Henshaw, a mining engineer’s daughter. He was educated at University College School and Eastbourne College, and entered St Thomas’s Hospital medical school. He did his first house jobs there and also became house physician to the children’s department.

During the war he served on the staff at the War Emergency Medical Research Council. Five years of his time there was spent in the physiological laboratory at Lulworth Camp in Dorset, doing research on the effect of explosion on tanks and tank crews which led to his MD and PhD thesis entitled ‘Tank crew casualties’.

He was determined to pursue a course in paediatrics, and was awarded a Rockefeller travelling fellowship in paediatrics, spending a fruitful and happy year as a visiting fellow at the University of Minnesota. The completion of his medical training was guided by Douglas Gairdner at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, who had recently arrived there from the Newcastle paediatric department, at that time so ably chaired by James Spence [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.386], later Sir James.

With the coming of the National Health Service the stage was set for the expansion of paediatrics in this country. The NHS needed to recruit physicians of stature and proselytising enthusiasm, to establish the facilitating environment for the young specialty. Dick was admirably suited for this role, and was appointed consulting paediatrician to the East and West Suffolk Hospitals in 1949. He was not only an advocate for children and their families but also the planner and designer of the purpose built accommodation for both inpatients and outpatients, and neonatal services. It is hard now to imagine Dick doing ward rounds in a stetson hat and western boots, but he knew it was important to establish the fact that both children and paediatricians were different. He was also an active member of the hospital Christmas concerts group. It is easier to imagine that the establishment of the department took up most of his energies and thoughts, but in addition he took on local and national commitments for the British Paediatric Association, being a member of Council from 1961-64, and he also had an outpatient commitment to Great Ormond Street from 1961-63.

He was a lifetime member of the British Medical Association, and was active locally. He served on the Joint Consultants’ Committee for 10 years or so and was president of the Wholetime Consultants’ Association. He claimed to have worn out two bowler hats on behalf of the profession, using the technique of courteous argument and subtle negotiation with various health ministers. Although he was saddened to leave the JCC, he later admitted that he would not have done well with the confrontation tactics which later had to be used to safeguard the profession’s position. He was delighted, towards the end of his career, to be elevated to the fellowship of the BMA in 1980.

Dick remained a single-handed consultant until 1967, when he was joined by a colleague who also had a major commitment to Colchester Hospital - in another district and another region. He was an astute guide and counsellor to the newcomer, and would always have a refreshingly lateral approach to any problems, both medical and political. He found it more difficult to share clinical control and remained steadfastly and consistently on call for his patients except when he was away on leave, or officer of the day to the Royal Ipswich Yacht Club. But his prime consideration was for his small patients and their families, and he was always available for consultation.

Dick was a private man, whose common sense and integrity were supported by his love for his family and his strong Christian beliefs. He was a founder member of the Institute of Religion and Medicine, and ran the Monday group with the hospital chaplain for many years - to which doctors, nurses and other hospital workers came to discuss problems of ethical and moral difficulty in their work. These strengths allowed him not only to counsel the distressed, and the bereaved child and his family, but also to inspire a sense of purpose and high standards in those with whom he worked, and in those whom he helped to train. His prose was meticulously and economically chosen. He had early fallen under the influence of Richard Asher [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.16] and was dismayed by his colleagues’ profligacy and carelessness with words. He read widely, particularly the poets of the 1930s and ’40s. He preferred the solitary sports of fly fishing and bird watching, but shared a love of the sea with his family and friends.

He was twice married, first to Ellen Mary Townroe, by whom he had five children - one of whom is a consultant epidemiologist and another a sister tutor. His first wife died in 1961 after a long illness. A year later he married the Hon. Mrs Mary Musker, daughter of Robert Fitzroy, 2nd Viscount Daventry, and she brought him three stepsons and 2 stepdaughters. The solution was to buy an old preparatory school near Ipswich in order to accommodate the large and growing family. He and Mary entertained, with almost Whig-like enthusiasm, the nurses, students and staff of the paediatric department and invited them to share their grounds and their swimming pool. Shortly after Dick retired, Mary died after a short illness, from the desolation of which Dick never recovered.

Dick was a colossus in his time, bestriding two district health authorities. Where once he consulted single-handed, he is now succeeded by five consultant paediatricians and one consultant community paediatrician. He had established a new specialty successfully in the fertile soil of East Anglia. He retired at a time when he was becoming increasingly dismayed by the dilution of consultant responsibility. He was suspicious of shared-care, and critical of the insincerity of interdisciplinary cooperation and integration. At its birth paediatrics needed single-minded, dedicated godparents to guide its development. Where Dick Mayon-White led, others gladly followed.

C Nourse

[Brit.med.J., 1984,289,1464]

(Volume VIII, page 328)

<< Back to List