Lives of the fellows

Hugh Spear Pemberton

b.3 June 1890 d.15 Jan 1956
MB ChB Liverp(1913) MRCP(1921) FRCP(1941)

Hugh Spear Pemberton was born in Liverpool, the fourth and youngest son of Thomas Shepherd Pemberton and his wife; Elizabeth Marion, née Green. He was descended on his mother’s side from Admiral Spear, who was one of Nelson’s admirals and after whom he was named, and he was a cousin of A. Halford Smith, warden of New College, Oxford (1944-58), and vice-chancellor (1954-7).

He was educated at Liverpool Institute and Liverpool University, where he qualified in 1913, and joined the resident staff of the David Lewis Northern Hospital, Liverpool. The following year he was appointed clinical pathologist to the Hospital. He served throughout the First World War in the R.A.M.C, in France and later in Russia, and was mentioned in dispatches in 1915 for gallant and distinguished services.

On demobilisation in 1918 he was appointed assistant to the David Lewis Northern Hospital and reached senior consultant status in 1924. Though he was attached to the Liverpool Hospital for Women, the Liverpool Radium Institute, and the Neston and Hoylake and West Kirby Cottage Hospitals, all his time and interest throughout his life from the time he qualified were devoted to the Northern Hospital. From 1947 to 1950 he was chairman of the Birkenhead and Wirral division of the British Medical Association, and was vice-president of the section of medicine at the annual meeting of the Association in 1950.

He served the Northern Hospital continuously for forty-two years and never had any hospital a more devoted servant. Day after day his ward-rounds and clinics began exactly on time. He seldom took more than a few days’ holiday; he went on no committees, and neither sought nor accepted other appointments which might make him miss or be late for his work at the Northern. Punctilious though he was in starting his hospital work on time, once started time meant nothing to him. If necessary he would carry on till late at night, and the last patient would receive the same meticulous and unhurried attention as the first.

The example he set by his own incredibly high sense of duty was undoubtedly the greatest, but not the only lesson he taught his colleagues and students. He showed them the importance of dignity and courtesy in dealing with patients and subordinates. He himself was always perfectly groomed, and woe betide any student who came to his ward-rounds or clinics dishevelled or inappropriately garbed. Pemberton was a magnificent teacher. He enjoyed teaching; he enjoyed mixing with and discussing medicine with the younger generation. He was forever thinking out new ways of interesting and instructing his students, and his sense of humour and keen wit kept them on their toes. No wonder his was the most popular ‘firm’ and that there was so much competition to get on to it.

While he had the classical, tall, lean, hungry look, the sartorial rectitude and all the traditional ceremony and old-world dignity that one expects in a consulting physician, at heart he was a surgeon. Not for him that conservatism towards surgical intervention which used to be associated with physicians.

He remained exciting, stimulating, unpredictable and challenging up to the day of his retirement, which meant for him a wrench he found intolerable, and which the understanding and sympathy of his friends and colleagues were unable to ease. In 1914 he married Sarah Ann Hanley, of Crewe, who died in 1950. One daughter, Lesley Mary, was born in 1916. His second marriage in 1951 was to Dorothy Alice Parker, fourth daughter of William F. Goodyear, shipowner, of Liverpool.

Richard R Trail

[, 1956, 1, 237-8; Lancet, 1956, 1, 167; Liverpool Echo, 16 Jan. 1956.]

(Volume V, page 327)

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