Lives of the fellows

Basil Thomas Parsons-Smith

b.30 August 1882 d.3 September 1954
MB BS Lond(1908) MD Lond(1909) MRCP(1919) FRCP(1929)

Basil Thomas Parsons-Smith was the second son of Samuel Parsons-Smith, M.D., J.P., by his wife, Elizabeth Anne, née Iredale. His father, who had qualified at Trinity College, Dublin, had practised in Croydon, Surrey, since 1869.

He received his early education at Sir Roger Manwood’s Grammar School, Sandwich, and his medical training at St. Thomas’s Hospital. After holding the posts of casualty officer, house physician and resident anaesthetist, he obtained the M.D. (Lond.) in 1920. He then joined his father in general practice in Croydon, but when the 1914-18 War broke out he joined the R.A.M.C. He served in France with a Field Ambulance and was medical officer to the Gloucester Regiment. He had already shown his interest in cardiology, having won the Hunterian medal for a dissertation on the intermittent pulse in 1914, and in 1917 was appointed specialist, with the rank of captain, in charge of the Heart Centre at Cayeux-sur-Mer.

Later he served as heart specialist at the Military Hospital at Colchester, and after demobilisation was appointed cardiologist to the Ministry of Pensions, when he published an analysis of 1,000 cases of heart disorders in soldiers (J.roy.Army med.Cps, 1919, 32, 117-45). He was appointed physician to out-patients at the National Heart Hospital in 1920 and became physician to the Hospital in 1929, a position he held for eighteen years. He acted as dean to its Postgraduate Medical School from 1923 until 1947 and then helped in the formation of the new Institute of Cardiology. On his retirement from the staff in October 1947, he was elected a member of the Committee of Management of the Hospital, and in July 1948 became a member of the Board of Governors, the meetings of which he attended regularly up to July 1954.

Parsons-Smith was an ardent supporter of medical societies, his chief interests being the Medical Society of London, the Royal Society of Medicine and, particularly beloved by him, the Hunterian Society. He delivered the Society’s Hunterian oration in 1934, and when in 1952 he was elected president he gave an address on cardiology old and new. He was appointed St. Cyres lecturer in 1936, and president of the clinical section of the Royal Society of Medicine from 1936 to 1938. He was a founder member of the British Cardiac Society and of the London Cardiological Club, of which he was the original secretary and was said to be the only person who knew the rules. He was made an Officer of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in 1945, and delivered the Lumleian lectures on cardiac failure in 1950.

He was an ardent Freemason and held office in Grand Lodge. He liked a game of golf and excelled at cricket, playing for St. Thomas’s XI when an undergraduate and on the village greens of Winchelsea and Buxted in Sussex between the two World Wars. He was intensely interested in the layout of gardens; that at Coopers Green House, Buxted, is a beautiful example of his artistry.

He was only on the staff of one hospital, but had an extensive private practice. A colleague at the National Heart Hospital considered that his success as a consultant cardiologist was founded on his years in general practice. He wrote: ‘He had learned the art of healing in the only way it can be properly learned. His gentle, sympathetic manner, invariable kindness, deep understanding of his patients’ problems and a rare capacity for listening to what others had to say may be partly attributed to this experience. He never lost the attitude of mind of the family doctor and he used his increasing knowledge and authority to help the sick, not to bring himself any special reward or fame. He was to be remembered for his many Christian qualities; he was fundamentally good.’

In 1910 he married Marguerite, daughter of Sir David Burnett, Bart., former Lord Mayor of London. He had two children, a son who followed him in the medical profession and who was elected a Fellow of the College in 1955, and a daughter.

Richard R Trail

[Brit. Heart J., 1955, 17, 262 (p);, 1954, 2, 649-50; Lancet, 1954, 2, 557; Times, 4, 9 Sept. 1954.]

(Volume V, page 320)

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