Lives of the fellows

Douglas Pickering

b.6 July 1937 d.24 January 1987
MRCS LRCP(1960) MB BS Lond(1960) DCH(1963) MRCP(1966) FRCPE(1979) FRCP(1981)

Douglas Pickering was born at Beckenham, the son of Arthur Pickering, a chartered accountant, and the nephew of four doctors. He was educated at Dulwich College, where he carried off several sports and scholastic prizes, and at Guy’s Hospital, graduating in 1960.

His house appointments were at Pembury Hospital and included a post with Norman Jacoby, whose example of the practice and philosophy of paediatrics had a lifelong influence on him. A short period as a ship’s surgeon had a happy result; he met Flora, his future wife, who was such a tremendous support to him for the rest of his life, particularly in his long and ultimately mortal illness.

Douglas gained further experience in general paediatrics in Ronald Illingworth’s unit at Sheffield, and in cardiology at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. In 1967 he came as senior registrar in paediatrics to Oxford, where he spent the rest of his life. His paediatric skills were soon evident. He set about developing expertise in paediatric cardiology with a year’s fellowship in John Keith’s unit at the Toronto Royal Hospital for Sick Children. In 1971 he was the obvious choice for the newly created post of consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist at the Radcliffe Infirmary. He soon built up a flourishing local and regional service in cardiology - indeed, was one of the few pioneers of modern paediatric cardiology with its new interventionist techniques - but never became divorced from general paediatrics, taking his full share in its practice and teaching. His contributions to the literature of both subjects were considerable, mostly written with colleagues, for he was an easy collaborator, and it was only ill health which all too soon reduced the volume of vigorous but careful clinical research.

After a cruelly brief time in the full flow of the busy consultant practice of a teaching hospital, he suffered a stroke from which he made a good recovery only to be afflicted later by a chronic and finally fatal disease. He died at the age of 49.

There was a nobility about Douglas, and all who knew him in the last few years of his life could only marvel at his cheerful, uncomplaining persistence in adversity. He had a strong Christian faith which was not flaunted but was all the more impressive for that. He had a clear set of values which included loyalty to colleagues, devotion to the best interests of his patients, and a conscientious application to all he undertook. But he was not boring. He had a lively sense of humour, which was often expressed as outrage at the more extreme foibles of the undisciplined in modern society. His strong sense of the need for order and self-discipline was often affronted by what he met in his clinical practice during the last 20 years of his life, but he brought sympathy and, where possible, unsentimental help to such families. Indeed, he well knew the social obligations of the hospital clinician; for instance, he helped found the Children’s Heart Circle to enable parents to share experiences and support each other.

He was a slim, upright figure who, bearded as he was for the latter part of his life, must have been a convincing father figure to his young patients. Until prevented by illness he was a keen athlete, playing cricket, hockey and golf with enjoyment. He and his wife had a son and two daughters, in whom he had a proper but unobtrusive pride.

BD Bower

[Brit.med.J., 1987,294,713]

(Volume VIII, page 376)

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