Lives of the fellows

Thomas Partington

b.10 October 1913 d.25 December 1988
MRCS LRCP(1937) MB BS Lond(1938) MD(1947) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1962)

Tom Partington was born in Chadderton, near Oldham in Lancashire, the son of a builder, Thomas Albert Partington, whose father before him had founded the firm.

Tom was educated at Hulme Grammar School, Oldham, and went to University College, London, where he did his preclinical training. From 1934-37 he was at St George’s Hospital medical school, where he was successively casualty officer, house surgeon, house physician and registrar. These four jobs in a teaching hospital gave him a good grounding in medicine and, with this under his belt, he moved as medical registrar to the wartime EMS hospital at Old Windsor and then to the West London Hospital as clinical assistant to the outpatient department.

He joined the Royal Navy in 1942 and saw much active service, about which he was extremely reticent. He suffered from severe seasickness throughout his four and a half years in the Navy, and had little dme for sailors who came to him complaining of the same trouble. He carried out his sick-bay ‘surgeries’ with a vomit bowl besides his examination couch, for his own use.

Soon after joining the Navy he served in destroyers on the Malta and Russian convoys, the invasion of Sicily and the Salerno landings. He was in a tank landing ship on the D-day Normandy landings and the subsequent evacuation of casualties. He went to the Far East with a Fleet aircraft carrier, HMS Pioneer, visiting Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines, and took part in the re-occupation of Hong Kong and the rehabilitation of the medical services. He later became a medical specialist in the colony’s RN Hospital, with the rank of surgeon lieutenant commander RNVR. He was demobilized in 1946.

This bare outline of his service career cannot convey his bravery and dedication to his profession in the face of extreme danger. He let slip, occasionally, accounts of some of his adventures, from which he was extremely lucky to emerge unscathed, and said that he was very frightened a lot of the time.

After the war Tom had to cope with the universal problem of too many demobilized doctors chasing too few jobs. No doubt because of his excellent record in the past, St George’s took him on and he spent the next three years there, becoming a senior registrar in July 1948 and working under Anthony Feiling [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.l73] and Hugh Gainsborough [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.l97], and it was then that he became especially interested in neurology and cardiology, the former being perhaps his first love.

In February 1950 he was appointed consultant physician to Kettering and Northampton General Hospitals, with the majority of his sessions at Kettering. At the time the hospital was emerging from its Cottage Hospital status and was still largely run by local general practitioners, with visits from London and Northampton consultants.

Tom was determined to build it into a first class hospital and, with a few colleagues appointed around the same time, soon built up a district general hospital which was able ‘to stand on its own feet’ without outside help. It involved a tremendous amount of work, not least of which was due to the fact that he was the sole consultant physician in the district and was called upon to see patients from a wide area - after he had settled his differences with the local practitioners, who were naturally jealous of their appointments but whose opposition ceased when he set up a medical department with junior staff from London teaching hospitals. For nine years he ran the department alone and was uncompromising in his view, as Kettering Hospital grew into its district general hospital status, that no consultant should be appointed without full postgraduate training and a higher degree.

During this time he served on the Kettering and District Hospital management committee, the medical advisory committee - of which he was chairman, lectured nurses, and even found time to read papers at the Oxford regional physicians’ meetings, usually with a neurological flavour.

In the late 1950s, Tom was struck down with weakness in the legs, with marked fibrillation of the muscles, which was confidently diagnosed by two neurologists as motor neurone disease. Despite this, and his knowledge of the prognosis, he carried on working and lived another thirty years without obvious deterioration.

Tom retired in August 1976, but by then the fruits of his labours had matured into a medical department with four consultants in a newly built district general hospital.

Tom Partington was never one to sit back and do nothing; he had almost no interests outside medicine and had never married. He once said that he followed the precepts of Sir Thomas Browne in Religio Medici: to put off marriage until well established in the profession. Although he had certainly become established, he felt he had put it off too long and left it too late.

On retirement he turned his energies to establishing a hospital in Teheran - the Notre-Dame de Fatima - in the north of the city at the instigation of the Knights of Malta, with help from the Ministry of Health of the Shah’s Government. While he was there he studied Farsi so that he could converse with the peasants at the clinics in the countryside covered by the hospital. The hospital, run by British consultants and staff nurses, did great work among the local community before it had to close rather precipitously when the Shah was forced to leave.

Tom learned French to A-level standard; he had gone to Paris with others to learn how to set up an intensive care unit, and was lectured for over an hour by the administrator at the hospital in Suresnes, where there had been such a unit for some time. He was incensed at not understanding a word and was determined to correct his lack of knowledge.

Tom Partington had a retiring personality, with a fiery temper if roused which went with his red hair, but once admitted to his friendship there was revealed a most kindly, sincere and humorous man who engendered great affection from all his professional colleagues and others who knew him well.

His last years were spent sadly alone in Cheltenham where, until he was disabled by his final illness, he would receive visitors with lavish and painstakingly detailed hospitality. He will be remembered for his incisive character and personal charm, and also as a great and dedicated physician.

GS Crockett

[Brit.med.J., 1989,298,317,520]

(Volume VIII, page 369)

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