Lives of the fellows

Neil Justin O'Doherty

b.28 September 1928 d.19 February 1999
MB BCh BAO NUI(1952) MD(1956) MRCPI(1956) MRCP(1956) DCH(1958)

Neil Justin O’Doherty was a paediatrician, a polymath, a gourmand, a film buff, an intrepid traveller, a composer of anagrams and a collector of anecdotes, a man of words and wisdom. He was a member of the historical O’Doherty clan of Inishowen whose history dates back to the fifteenth century. Neil, however, spent much of his life in Dublin and lived in Sunnybank, a gorgeous Georgian house on the bank of the Liffey, and a former residence of Lord Northcliffe. The house features in Finnegan’s wake. He received his secondary and medical school education in Dublin, graduating in 1952. He then obtained his MD, followed by membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of London and of Ireland, and in 1958 by his diploma in child health.

He did house jobs in Dublin, London (Whipps Cross, Whittington and London Chest Hospitals) and was then a senior house officer at St Stephen’s Hospital. He commenced his paediatric training at the Evelina Children’s Hospital at Guy’s, followed by Great Ormond Street and Queen Charlotte’s Hospitals. He was a registrar in Newcastle and then crossed to North America where as a research fellow he worked in the Sick Children’s Hospital, Toronto and at Johns Hopkins. In 1962 he returned to Guy’s Hospital where he served as senior paediatric registrar and senior lecturer until 1967. He was a consultant paediatrician at the West Middlesex Hospital prior to returning to Dublin.

In Dublin he was based at the Children’s Hospital, Temple Street, St Michael’s House, the handicapped child community of North Dublin, and taught the students of University College Dublin where he was associate professor.

He brought back to Ireland skills and experiences learned with the developmental dame, Mary Sheridan. He published a photographic text on the battered child with 'guaranteed Irish illustrations' and highlighted child abuse in the republic. His Atlas of the newborn (Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1979) was a source of great pride to him and was, in its time, unique. His text Inspecting the newborn baby’s eyes (Lancaster, Boston, MTP Press, 1986) contained many extraordinary observations, illustrations and practice points. He also contributed a text on the Neurological examination of the newborn (Lancaster, Boston, MTP Press, 1986).

Neil’s inquisitive and enquiring nature stimulated him to consult widely. Many of Neil’s former registrars will recall, with a mixture of frustration and fondness, his orders during rounds or in the outpatients: 'ring Menkes now'; 'get me McCusick'; 'call my friend Bob Gorlin, he’ll have the answer'; 'where’s Smith?'; 'consult the Baraister database'. Neil maintained a lifelong interest in dysmorphosis, and offered great sympathy and support for the affected families.

Neil will be missed for his formidable intellect, his idiosyncratic quirky dry humour, and his amiable eccentricities. He used to say of one colleague with whom he had perennial disagreements that they were in 'an antlers locked situation'. On my first trip to the Middle East he advised me to bring with me some rubber bands, two toilet rolls, and a golfball ('work it out, son'). He devoured books, photographed prodigiously, and collected an enormous number of clinical, teaching and ‘funny’ slides. The O’Doherty slide archive rests outside my office as a tribute to his energy, observational ability and interest in his patients. The filing system was locked in Neil’s memory!

I’ll wager that Neil left his hallmark on all of the institutions he worked at and will be remembered long after his departure, by head porters, hospital photographers, library curators, administrators, ward sisters, as a man of distinction, as a mincer of words, a character of eccentric wit, accumulated wisdom, remarkable memory and combative disposition.

Neil will be missed by his five sisters, by his admiring colleagues, by his patients, many of whom kept in touch long after his retirement. ‘The Doc’, as Neil was affectionately known, will long be recounted and recalled in stories and anecdotes. O’Doherty was a star, often shining brightly, occasionally shooting in the wrong direction, always illuminating, whose lines will continue to light up our lives.

Denis G Gill

(Volume XI, page 430)

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