Lives of the fellows

Jeremy Pilcher

b.11 November 1934 d.2 February 1989
MRCS LRCP(1960) MB BChir Cantab(1961) DCH(1962) MRCP(1965) MD Cantab(1974) FRCP(1979)

Jeremy Pilcher was born in Heswall, Cheshire. His father was an Army man, Colonel A H Pilcher CIE MC ED, of the Assam Valley Light Horse, who was a tea planter and also honorary ADC to the Viceroy of India. His mother was Eileen Parrington. Jeremy spent his early years in Assam before going on to Shrewsbury School in England. He received his medical training at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and St Thomas’ Hospital, London. House officer posts were followed by training in paediatrics and general medicine in Manchester and Birmingham before he turned towards a career in cardiology. A Sheldon Research Fellowship at the West Midlands regional health authority was followed by a post as a senior registrar to the United Sheffield Hospitals and Sheffield regional health authority and in 1972 he was appointed consultant cardiologist to Coventry.

In Coventry, Pilcher joined an established department of cardiology and cardiac surgery. At a time of expansion in these fields he proved an ideal colleague, contributing to the heavy workload of a sub-regional centre, establishing new techniques - with a particular interest in pacemakers - and stimulating the research and training of junior doctors, thereby gaining their great loyalty.

He visited the hospitals at all hours - a spare, pale, preoccupied figure with a slight stoop, comfortably rather than formally dressed, and carrying a battered briefcase; correctly reflecting his complete indifference to creating a first impression of importance, or to promoting his own reputation. Many people felt that this self-effacement resulted in a lack of recognition of his abilities. A slightly abrupt manner with both patients and staff caused many to be nervous of him at first; familiarity, however, was followed by respect and affection. It was a relationship that left no doubt about the standards he required from his staff - but allowed the nurses to dress him up every Christmas in embarrassing costumes, prior to carving the turkey.

In 1963, Jeremy married Nijole Stase, the daughter of a Lithuanian doctor, Stasys Puodziukas, and they had a son, David, and a daughter, Helen. A happy home life and a supportive family, with a remarkably close attachment to a mongrel called ‘Nuts’, were of great importance to him in his later years. His energy at work was paralleled by involvement and interests outside medicine. Having married a Lithuanian, that country’s culture and communities became of great interest to him.

He was a keen fisherman, but success in this field largely eluded him; enquiries as to the catch were countered with regrets that the question had been asked. He seemed to balance his failure to catch much fish by his success in his other great outdoor interest - in moths and butterflies. He always carried a beating tray and stick in the boot of his car. Domiciliary visits were known to be preceded by the beating of a patient’s hedge and the collection of caterpillars. He trapped moths in their hundreds, and even designed an amazingly effective lead-lined moth trap which was built into the roof of his house.

He was also a stamp collector, with characteristic enthusiasms which led him from collecting Burmese stamps to specializing in stamps of the Japanese occupation of Burma, to forgeries of the occupation stamps - on which he was often consulted as a recognized authority. He was a noted expert on the ‘Burma Peacocks’ issues.

As well as being principal medical officer to Equity & Law Life Assurance, he was actively involved in cardiac charities and screening projects in the community.

Jeremy Pilcher served the Coventry hospitals all his life. He was a man of great energy and wide ranging interests, with a degree of commitment to his work which might be regarded as excessive. To these qualities one could add courage. Over the years he suffered a number of different illnesses, requiring much medical and surgical treatment, and for some time before his death he knew that his future was uncertain and ultimately very limited. He was so successful in concealing this from the majority of people that many thought his final illness was a short one; thus he would have felt he had achieved his aim. For many people, his early death brought widespread sadness and a sense of loss which was only to be expected. Nobody who knew him was surprised, but he himself would have been.

J Howell Jones

[Brit.med.J.1989,298,957;Photo by permission of the Coventry Evening Telegraph]

(Volume IX, page 416)

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