Lives of the fellows

Alan Guyatt (Sir) Parks

b.19 December 1920 d.3 November 1982
MA BM BCh Oxon(1947) MD J Hopkins USA(1947) MRCP(1948) FRCS(1949) MCh Oxon(1954) FRCP(1976)

Alan Guyatt Parks was an only child who at an early age developed a wide interest in crafts and hobbies. Later, he championed surgery as a craft to which he devoted his intellect and manual dexterity. The notice of his death described him as ‘Master Surgeon’, and this description fitted him exactly.

After early education at Sutton High School he obtained a scholarship to Epsom College, where he subsequently became head boy. As an Exhibitioner to Brasenose College, Oxford, he distinguished himself by becoming president of the Oxford University Athletic Club and playing rugby for the university. After graduating BA in 1943, Parks was one of a small wartime group selected for further training in America, as a Rockefeller student at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore. He was medical intern there and graduated MD in 1947 before returning to Guy’s to complete his BM BCh in the same year. During the next two years, in which he served as house physician and research assistant, he took his MRCP and final FRCS. There followed two years in the RAMC as a surgeon with service in Malaya, Japan and Korea. On returning home he was resident surgical officer at Putney Hospital, then registrar and senior registrar at Guy’s, until in 1959 he was appointed as a consultant surgeon to the London and St Mark’s Hospitals, appointments which he held until the time of his death.

As a clinician, his innovative mind was not bound by the constraints of orthodoxy and he approached each problem from first principles. Patients recognized his conscientious concern for their welfare, and he justly enjoyed their complete confidence and affection. His MCh thesis in 1954, on the surgical treatment of haemorrhoids, described a new submucous procedure which his students dubbed Parks’ painless proctoplasty. Subsequently, a series of papers radically altered surgical practice in the treatment of anal incontinence, fistula-in-ano, the removal of rectal tumours by the anal route, techniques for colo-anal anastomosis, and finally a new operation designed to avoid a permanent ileostomy after proctocolectomy for ulcerative colitis. His understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the pelvic floor, combined with the craftsmanship of his dissection, led to recognition of his work as a surgical pioneer of the very highest scientific quality. As a result, his clinical opinion and practical expertise were greatly in demand, and to the end of his life he remained a busy and dedicated clinician.

For Parks, research was a natural outcome of his questioning approach to clinical problems. His early work was based on anatomical study of thick sections of the breast and, later, he used a similar technique to study the anatomy of the anal canal and pelvic floor. In collaboration with others, electrical and pressure recordings were used to gain knowledge of the reflexes controlling the smooth muscle of the internal anal sphincter and the striated muscle of the pelvic floor and external anal sphincter. Strips of human muscle obtained at operation were studied in an isolated organ bath to investigate neurotransmitters and the effect of drugs. His clinical research involved detailed study of patients whom he had treated personally with particular reference to the outcome of various operative procedures.

In 1971 Parks was persuaded to stand for election to the Council of the College of Surgeons. His talents as an administrator were quickly recognized and he was soon appointed chairman of the Joint Consultants’ Committee. His integrity and sense of humour made him a popular and successful chairman, and his valuable contribution to this negotiating committee between the profession and the DHSS was recognized by the knighthood conferred in 1977. It was no surprise when he was elected president of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1980. His genial manner, supported by the charm of his wife, combined with his wise and firm leadership, contributed much to the College during his period of office.

A strong Christian faith, developed at school, remained a major force throughout his life. As a keen supporter of the Christian Medical Fellowship, Parks at one time led their study group on ethical problems and was president elect at the time of his death. He was a staunch member of his local church and honorary surgeon to St Luke’s Hospital for the Clergy.

Tall in stature, and with broad shoulders, Alan Parks was a commanding figure who did not hesitate to speak his mind, though he was approachable and extremely loyal to his friends and students. In 1956 he married Caroline Jean, daughter of John Cranston, an engineer, and they had three sons and a daughter. His family life was happy and he loved nothing more than to join his wife and children at their country cottage in Suffolk. A keen observer of all aspects of natural history, he gained great refreshment from his times in the countryside.

His Christian faith persuaded him not to look for perfection in men, but he accepted people as they are, recognized that motives can be unworthy, and aimed to bring out the best in everyone he met. As a committee member his thoughts sometimes appeared far away, when he would suddenly rouse himself and bring the matter under discussion into focus with a few penetrating remarks. As an after dinner speaker, he spurned stories or jokes, and spoke in a simple, unaffected and direct manner.

Besides those already mentioned, many honours came to him such as honorary fellowships of the Edinburgh, Australasian and American Colleges of Surgeons, the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and Canada, and the Italian Surgical Society. He was consultant surgeon to the Army, examiner in Surgery for Cambridge university and chief medical adviser of BUPA. His presidential address to the section of proctology at the Royal Society of Medicine was characterized by his conceptual approach.

In 1978, he gave the Howard M Frykman memorial lecture in Minnesota; in 1979, the Fleming lecture to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow; in 1980 the Arthur Hurst lecture to the British Society of Gastroenterology; and in 1982, the Cecil Joll prize lecture to the Royal College of Surgeons. An ardent European, he received the German Ernst Jung prize in 1980 for his unique contributions to colo-rectal surgery, and the following year he was awarded the Nessim Hapif prize of the University of Geneva.

Alan Parks regarded himself as a physician who operates, and he was proud of his fellowship in this College. He will long be remembered as a surgical craftsman, a clinical scientist, a medical statesman, and as a man of great integrity and character.

JE Lennard-Jones

[Brit.med.J., 1982, 285, 1434, 1569; Lancet, 1982, 2, 111; Times, 5 and 27 Nov 1982; J. roy. Soc. Med., 1983, 76, 91]

(Volume VII, page 447)

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