Lives of the fellows

Desmond Richard Levinge Newton

b.8 September 1922 d.3 December 1996
MRCS LRCP(1945) MRCP(1950) DPhysMed(1955) FRCP(1971)

Desmond Newton was one of the first trained physicians in rheumatology. He developed services in the Teesside area, but he was also a national figure who successfully influenced his chosen specialty.

He came from a family of clergymen and solicitors. His father, William Leslie Newton, was a country rector. His mother, Olave Geneste Sweet, was the daughter of a solicitor. There were no doctors in the family. He was a boarder at Woodcote House at Windlesham and at King’s School, Peterborough. In 1940 he went to St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, just as it had been evacuated to Godalming. After qualifying he became a casualty officer at St Thomas’s and was then appointed house physician to Harold Gardiner-Hill [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p. 199].

For the remainder of the Second World War he was a medical officer in the RAMC attached to the 92nd Indian General Hospital combined. In February 1946 he was posted to Japan. He met his future wife, Margaret Mary Beggs, a sister in the same unit and they were married at Kure in Southern Honshu in 1947. They had two daughters and a son.

After demobilization he went back to the basic sciences of physiology, pathology and anatomy in preparation for the MRCP examination. In July 1948 he was appointed to a junior hospital post at St Thomas’s, initially attached to the dermatology department for three months and then to Hector Goadby’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.200] firm. He went on to St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey, as one of two house physicians. Here he had one of the busiest and happiest jobs of his medical career, with responsibility for sixty acute medical beds, including one male and one female ward.

He passed his membership examination in 1950 and was appointed as a general medical registrar at St Thomas’s. In 1953 he became a registrar to the department of physical medicine and later became chief assistant. He also worked as a part time consultant physician to the Woolwich Hospital and was a part time clinical assistant in the department of physical medicine, University College Hospital.

In July 1959 he was appointed as a consultant physician (rheumatology and rehabilitation) to North and South Teesside, Darlington and Northallerton Hospital Groups. In 1972 his responsibilities devolved to South Teesside only. He initiated physical medicine and rheumatology services in the Teesside area and was largely responsible for setting up the physiotherapy service in Teesside. He was a lecturer on the postgraduate course in advanced medicine at the University of Newcastle in 1963 and carried out numerous postgraduate lectures locally, regionally and nationally from 1965 onwards.

He was a keen supporter of the Royal Society of Medicine, and was president of the section of physical medicine and vice-president of the Society between 1972 and 1973. He was on the editorial board of the Annals of physical medicine and was later an assistant editor. He was a member of the British Association for Rheumatology and Rehabilitation (BARR - now the British Society of Rheumatology) and honorary treasurer, vice-president and ultimately president between 1974 and 1976. He was also a member of the rheumatology and rehabilitation group committee of the BMA and on his retirement was appointed to several other honorary positions.

As a physician he was widely respected as a thorough and pain-staking clinician. He was a stickler for accuracy and precision in note taking and letter writing. He was by nature a workaholic and unfortunately this took a toll on his health. He enjoyed walking, motoring and photography.

J N Fordham

[Brit.med.J., 1997,314,610]

(Volume X, page 366)

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