Lives of the fellows

Clement (Sir) Price Thomas

b.22 November 1893 d.19 March 1973
KCVO(1951) MRCS LRCP(1921) MB BS Lond(1921) FRCS(1923) FRCP(1960) Hon MD Paris(1956) Hon LLD Wales(1953) Hon FRCSE Hon FRCSI

Clement Price Thomas was born at Abercam, Monmouthshire, the youngest son of a large family. He was educated at Newport High School and Cater ham School before entering the University of South Wales. Originally he intended to become a dentist but changed to medicine, and after a period in Cardiff he gained a scholarship to the Westminster Medical School.

During the first world war he served as a private in the 32nd Field Ambulance in Gallipoli and the Middle East, and later qualified in medicine in 1921. He occupied several resident appointments culminating with that of surgical registrar at the Westminster Hospital, and gained the diploma of FRCS in 1923. In 1927 he was appointed to the staff of the Westminster which he served until his retirement. His early days were influenced by Rock Carling, G.T. Mulally and Tudor Edwards. It was Tudor Edwards who introduced Price Thomas to thoracic surgery, which was then in its infancy and to which both made many valuable contributions.

Price Thomas’s other appointments included the Brompton Hospital, King Edward VII Sanatorium at Midhurst, and the Welsh National Memorial Association. He was also Consultant to the Army and Royal Air Force. He served on the Court of Examiners of the Royal College of Surgeons from 1948-1952 and was elected to the Council of that body in 1952, ultimately becoming a Vice-President from 1962-1964. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1960.

During his career, Price Thomas was the president of many important bodies: the British Medical Association, the Royal Society of Medicine, the Association of Thoracic Surgeons, the Thoracic Society and the Welsh National School of Medicine. He received honorary degrees from Wales, Belfast, Paris, Lisbon, Athens and Karachi, and delivered many eponymous lectures which included the Bradshaw, Vicary and Tudor Edwards. Following a successful operation on King George VI in 1951 he was honoured with the KCVO and his colleagues contributed to a prize, given under his name, to be awarded by the College of Surgeons for active contributions in the field of thoracic work.

Though Price Thomas was primarily a general surgeon at the Westminster Hospital his career was principally concerned with thoracic work, where he was internationally recognized as a pioneer and leader. In the early days most of his work was concerned with pulmonary tuberculosis, where the development of surgical techniques played an important part in treatment. His skill in die selection of suitable patients for operative procedures was remarkable and technically he was acknowledged a master. He was well known for having introduced into this country the operation of selective upper thoracoplasty pioneered by his friend Carl Semb of Oslo, and remained a dominant figure in this field as long as tuberculosis created the demand.

In another field, he was responsible for introducing the operative treatment for coarctation of the aorta to this country. He invited Clarence Crafoord from Stockholm to demonstrate the technique and ensured that his colleagues could share the experience. He withdrew from the developing field of cardiac surgery owing to the pressure of work in the pulmonary field.

At the end of his career he was afflicted by one of those chest conditions for which he had so often given relief, and in spite of a successful operation he became increasingly incapacitated and died at the age of 79.

His marriage to Ethel Doris Ricks (Dorrie) in 1925 was extremely happy and they had two sons; one now a surgeon, the other an architect.

Clem was one of the most dominant and exciting figures of his day: a smallish man, full of vitality and with real humanity and warmth. He had no enemies and all who knew him had the greatest admiration and affection for him. In spite of his fame, and his ebullience, he was an extremely modest man without any sign of pomposity. As a surgeon he was superb, but he will be best remembered as a pioneer and a teacher. He taught informally, with many reminiscences and anecdotes, and his ward rounds were attended to overflowing. With his sense of humanity, judgment and humour, he was the ideal ‘operating-physician’.

Sir Thomas Holmes Sellors

[Brit.med.J., 1973, 2, 123, 249; Lancet, 1973, 1, 731; Times, 20 Mar 1973; J. Alcoholism, 1973, Spring, p. 3]

(Volume VI, page 382)

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