Lives of the fellows

Norman Swift Plummer

b.10 June 1907 d.3 April 1978
MRCS LRCP(1930) MB BS Lond(1931) MRCP(1932) MD(1933) FRCP(1941)

Norman Plummer was born in Butterworth, South Africa. His father Walter James Plummer was a bank manager. His mother was Marianne Eveline Clarence. He was educated in South Africa before training at Guy’s Hospital, where he had a brilliant student career, obtaining a gold medal in medicine. After house appointments at Guy’s Hospital and a year’s postgraduate work in Amsterdam, he was appointed in 1933 medical registrar at Charing Cross Hospital. Two years later he was appointed physician to the Hospital, a post he held until his retirement in 1973.

He was fully engaged in hospital work at Charing Cross Hospital and in teaching, research, and private practice when the 1939-1945 war started. He served with great distinction, enjoying his arduous army service acting as consultant physician to the army in the Middle East with the rank of brigadier. He returned after the war to Charing Cross and the London Chest Hospitals. He was also consultant physician to Bromley and Edenbridge Hospitals. He served in these smaller hospitals as a consultant physician in the true sense of the word; though not concerned with day to day management,he showed his superb skill and judgement, spending endless time on a difficult problem.

Plummer was the ideal physician to successions of senior registrars at Charing Cross, London Chest and Bromley Hospitals, and many considered him the finest physician they had known. He did an immense amount of clinical work, despite the fact that he was responsible for a large number of beds with rapid turnover in different hospitals. He never shed this heavy load during the time when the trend was for consultants to have fewer patients all confined to one hospital. Much of his postgraduate teaching and research were carried out at the London Chest Hospital; his special interest in later years was a study of aspergillosis, on which he did much original work. He made pioneer contributions in the field of fungal chest infections. He acted as senior vice-president and senior censor to the College in 1970.

Plummer was modest and unassuming but could be very outspoken when the occasion arose. He would have found particularly irksome concepts mostly introduced since he retired, such as consensus decisions made by health teams in the management of patients. He hated the proliferation of committees, especially when these encroached on the working day. His quiet self-confidence was a comfort to the patients. He had a peculiar quality of unassailable integrity, difficult to describe but obvious to those who knew him. He was intolerant of shoddy behaviour, and would go to any lengths to help not just his friends but anyone he felt had been unfairly treated. He worked in an era when the part-time London teaching hospitals physicians had the greatest influence on British medicine, and when the autocratic attitude of this group caused some resentment. However, he was always as critical of his part-time colleagues who failed to pull their weight, as of the full-time staff who did not meet their commitments.

His recreations included tennis and golf, but he also played cricket against the Charing Cross students for many years. He was especially kind to junior colleagues whom he entertained in the happy atmosphere of his home. He had a fine sense of humour, and showed characteristic courage in his terminal illness. He left a wife, Helen, the daughter of Tom Kenneth Wilson, a businessman, three daughters, and a son who also became a doctor.

PBS Fowler

[Brit.med.J., 1978, 2, 284; Lancet, 1978, 1, 946; Times, 13 Apr 1978]

(Volume VII, page 474)

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