Lives of the fellows

Paul Buckle Newcomb

b.26 September 1919 b.21 May 1992
MRCS LRCP(1942) MB BS Lond(1943) MRCP(1944) MD(1948) FRCP(1970)

Paul Newcomb was born in Rochester, Kent, the son of Gerald Buckle Newcomb, a master tailor, and his wife Dorothy née Willis. He was educated at Epsom College, where he won a scholarship to study medicine at the London Hospital medical school, University of London. He had a famous medical relative, W D Newcomb [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.357], who may have influenced him towards a medical career. During his student days Paul was notable as a top-class rugger player and throughout his life he maintained a keen interest m physical activities of all kinds; he was a fine swimmer and had a single figure handicap as a golfer. In appearance, he was a handsome, lean, athletic man whose bearing, ability and total integrity made an indelible impression on both his students and junior staff.

After qualification he rose rapidly through junior medical posts, becoming senior registrar at the London Hospital to Lord Evans [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.123] and to Clifford Wilson, also a Fellow of the College. It was at The London that he met Mona, a nurse, and they married in 1944. It was a very happy marriage and they had two daughters and a son. At this stage he might well have joined the senior staff at The London. The London’s loss was Hackney’s gain - when Paul was appointed consultant physician to Hackney Hospital at a very early age and at a time when the NHS was born.

Paul had a special interest in gut diseases but at heart he was a true general physician, who did bronchoscopies as well as gut endoscopies. He quickly achieved respect and admiration, and his opinion was widely sought by his colleagues and their relatives - the ultimate professional accolade. He threw himself with tremendous enthusiasm into every aspect of professional life and faced an uphill task at Hackney, finding himself in frequent conflict with the management through his impatience to obtain the administrative support he felt both his patients and the hospital deserved. In those days the hospital was in the hands of administrators whose priority was economy rather than the proper maintenance of high clinical standards. Paul’s one object was to provide the best possible clinical service for his patients.

After the reorganization of the NHS in 1974 things became a little easier for Paul. With C J Dickinson, who had been appointed to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1975, he discussed ways in which the clinical and academic strength of Hackney Hospital might benefit by collaboration with the academic units at Bart’s. Paul showed him round the buildings at Hackney and the scene was not encouraging; buildings were crumbling, window frames rusting and paint flaking, but Paul’s obvious enthusiasm made a tremendous impression on Dickinson. With Paul’s encouragement and active support Dickinson involved the medical unit at Bart’s in Hackney Hospital - both in the care of inpatients and outpatients - and they became colleagues and friends.

As a consequence, the City and Hackney district now has the unique advantage of being a single teaching district, with busy casualty departments at each end - three miles or so apart. This collaboration also strengthened the teaching of Bart’s medical college, while the new Homerton Hospital was extremely popular with both students and junior staff. Paul realized one of his life’s ambitions when the hospital was opened and his efforts to create a proper postgraduate centre in the unpromising surroundings of the old Hackney Hospital, together with a decent library, were commemorated in the ‘Paul Newcomb Library' - which is the centrepiece of the excellent and impressive education centre at Homerton.

Paul Newcomb was a practical man and very good with his hands. Apart from swimming and golf, he also enioyed gardening and old cars. He was extremely modest and made light of his abilities and achievements. Characteristically, he bore a prolonged, painful and debilitating illness with courage, carrying on as usual almost to the end.

C J Dickinson

[Brit.med.J., 1992,305,520]

(Volume IX, page 389)

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