Lives of the fellows

Thomas Izod Bennett

b.14 July 1887 d.10 July 1946
MB Lond(1912) MD Lond(1920) MRCP(1920) FRCP(1927)

Thomas Izod Bennett, a New Zealander, was born in 1887 and brought up in Christchurch. After his schooling he came to London and enrolled as a medical student at Guy’s Hospital, where he qualified in 1912.

After a house appointment he joined the R.A.M.C, and served continuously from 1914 to 1918. Most of this time was spent in France as a regimental medical officer, but later he was appointed physician to a casualty clearing station. After demobilisation he returned to Guy’s where he became a medical assistant.

Bennett had always been interested in laboratory work, and during his period as a medical assistant he held a demonstratorship in Professor Pembury’s department of physiology. There is no doubt that Pembury had a profound influence on him; he was perhaps one of the most outstanding persons in medical education and physiology of the time, in every sense a ‘character’ and a leader who succeeded in maintaining very great enthusiasm in all his young men.

Bennett was at this period appointed a Beit memorial research fellow. In 1920 a vacancy for an assistant physician occurred at the Middlesex Hospital, for which he applied. He was elected and transferred his fellowship, working in the department of chemical pathology in the Bland-Sutton Institute, then headed by Dr, later Sir Ernest Kennaway.

The writer well remembers Bennett’s first entry into the laboratory where he himself was an assistant in chemical pathology. Bennett was a small, dapper man with a closely trimmed moustache, at this time very interested in the study of gastric secretion. Rehfuss had introduced the method of fractional gastric analysis, but as Pembury pointed out to Bennett unless one had a knowledge of the normal range it was impossible to interpret the test meal charts.

Bennett together with Ryle set out to perform a hundred gastric analyses on normal people. Whilst the swallowing of a tube was never a pleasant undertaking it must be remembered that in those days it was more or less unheard of. It required all Bennett’s personality to collect his share of the hundred. The volunteers were obtained from anybody that he met and a great many were students.

Bennett and Ryle’s paper (Lancet, 1929, 2, 35-6, 82-4) is a classic and it formed the basis of the evaluation of the fractional test meal for the rest of time. In 1922 Kennaway left the Bland-Sutton Institute to start his monumental work at what was then the Cancer Hospital, and the writer was put in charge of the department. A close friendship developed between us which continued until Bennett’s death.

We worked on a large number of problems, mainly concerned with gastroenterology. He was also interested in renal pathology, and made a number of experiments on the value of concentrated glucose solutions, which laid the foundation of the present popularity of glucose drinks. In 1928 he gave the Goulstonian lectures at the College on some aspects of nephritis. These lectures were published in book form in the following year. He was the author of numerous other books and papers dealing mostly with alimentary and renal pathology.

In 1929 he took a step which astonished most of his colleagues and friends by accepting the appointment of dean of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School. He held this position until 1934. Great though his qualities were, his friends felt that he was not really happy in this type of appointment and one felt that when he gave it up he did so with relief. During his deanship he was particularly keen on encouraging the teachers of the medical school and he undoubtedly made a contribution in this respect.

He was appointed senior physician to the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, consulting physician to the Cane Hill Mental Hospital, and physician to St. Columbus Hospital, the Faversham Hospital and St. Luke’s Hostel for the Clergy, and for many years was physician to St. Saviour’s Hospital in Osnaburgh Street. This last institution was run by a Church of England Sisterhood of the Epiphany, and was presided over by a Mother Superior. It was always a wonderful experience to see Izod Bennett discussing gravely the affairs both spiritual and physical of the patients under his care with the Mother Superior.

One of the most likeable features about Izod Bennett was his constant desire to help the under-dog with bad luck. Nothing was too much trouble for him and he spent a great deal of his time and his own personal money in helping people. He was particularly generous to ex-servicemen who had served in the 1914-18 War. The writer knows of several occasions on which he worked practically full-time to get pensions fairly re-adjusted. All this he did and was very angry if he was thanked. To many people he appeared rather haughty and sarcastic.

He was a very well read man, being bilingual in English and French. His prowess in the French language was undoubtedly due to the fact that he was married to a French wife, Ruth Iris, daughter of N. Weiss. They were a very devoted couple and Mrs Bennett played a very great part in his life, particularly towards the end, when he was stricken with ill health.

No life-history of Bennett would be complete without a tribute to his ability as a raconteur, his very highly developed sense of humour, and his rather mordant wit that made him a most attractive companion; yet he could appear irrascible and on occasions he rather terrified his house officers.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1946, 2, 104-05 (p); Lancet, 1946, 2, 106-07, 181 (p).]

(Volume V, page 34)

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