Lives of the fellows

Leonard Gregory (Sir) Parsons

b.25 November 1879 d.17 December 1950
MD Lond MRCS FRCP(1923) FRCOG(1944) FRS(1948)

Leonard Parsons was born at Kidderminster, the son of T. L. Parsons of Four Oaks, Birmingham, and educated at King Edward’s School, Aston. He qualified at Birmingham University in 1903 and was house physician at the Queen’s Hospital in Birmingham. After a short experience of general practice, he took up junior appointments at the Brompton Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children in London, and, returning to Birmingham in 1910, was elected to the staff of the Children’s Hospital. In 1912 he became assistant physician to the Birmingham General Hospital, and in later years he received appointments at a number of Midland hospitals. But children’s diseases remained his foremost interest and he devoted his career to securing better facilities for their study and treatment. In 1915 he was given the new post of lecturer on infant hygiene and diseases of children in Birmingham University, and in 1929 he was made the first professor of these subjects, having already, some years previously, instituted clinical tuition at the Children’s Hospital. That his aims had achieved success was proved before his death, when in 1943 paediatrics were constituted a subject in the final examination of the University, when, a year later, the expansion of the Children’s Hospital, on which he had set his heart, was completed, and when, in 1945, an institute of child health was set up in Birmingham.

During the first World War Parsons served as a captain with the 36th and 48th General Hospitals, being stationed in Salonika and attached to the Serbian Army; he received the Order of St. Sava in 1917. In the 1939-1945 War he added to his other responsibilities, which after 1941 included those of dean of the Birmingham medical faculty, the duties of a regional hospital officer of the Ministry of Health.

Parsons’ influence on paediatrics was founded on a solid experience of original research. He published valuable papers on nutritional disorders, especially rickets and scurvy, and on the haemolytic anaemias of childhood, and, with Seymour Barling, edited a treatise on Diseases of Infancy and Childhood (1933). Much of his work was embodied in the numerous lectures that he delivered. In 1912 he was Arris and Gale lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons, in 1928 Ingleby lecturer at Birmingham, in 1938 Schorstein lecturer at the London Hospital, and in 1948 Blair-Bell lecturer at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, of which he had been elected a Fellow four years earlier. At the Royal College of Physicians he gave the Goulstonian Lectures in 1924, the first Charles West Lecture in 1943, and the Harveian Oration in 1950; he was awarded the College’s Moxon Medal in 1942. He represented Birmingham University in the General Medical Council for many years and presided over the British Paediatric Association from 1942 to 1945. He was knighted in 1946 and elected an F.R.S. in 1948.

Parsons was not a quick thinker, but his clear grasp of essentials, combined with his pertinacity, energy, enthusiasm and patience, enabled him to give paediatrics, which he saw both as an essential part of medicine and as a guard against over-specialisation, its present high status in Great Britain. He remained to the end of his life modest, simple and devoted to his Methodist faith. When a young man, Parsons was a fine games player and athlete, and, at a more advanced age, he was never averse to taking time off to watch a Test Match or Rugby International. He married in 1908 Ethel May, daughter of Rev. J. G. Mantle, D.D., and had a son, C. G. Parsons, F.R.C.P, and a daughter. He died in his home at Four Oaks.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1950; B.M.J., 1950; Presidential Address to R.C.P., 1951, 19; Personal memoirs, in R.C.P. Library]

(Volume IV, page 588)

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