Lives of the fellows

Kenneth Owen Rawlings

b.25 July 1917 d.28 September 1996
MB BS Lond(1940) MRCS LRCP(1940) MRCP(1943) MD(1948) FRCP(1965)

A general physician, Kenneth Owen - ‘Peter’ -Rawlings was a consultant at the Farnborough and Beckenham Hospitals. He was born in Streatham, South London. His father, an engineer, was skilled at mending clocks, a talent his son inherited and practised. Peter was educated at Eltham College and studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital, qualifying in 1940. After house officer jobs at Guy’s he was temporarily a registrar before joining the RAMC in 1944, serving as a physician in the Persia and Iraq Force and becoming a medical specialist in Tripoli in 1947.

On his return from North Africa he held a post in the endocrine department at Guy’s Hospital before becoming consulting physician to Kent County Council at Farnborough Hospital in 1948 and then consultant physician in the NHS at its inauguration. This was followed by his appointment as a consultant to Beckenham Hospital. He went on to have a long and successful career as a general physician.

A man of great personality, fun and charm, his practice of medicine was based on an inherent fieldcraft and intuition more than on science. He was a practitioner of the art of medicine who knew his limitations and when to seek help. His success was aided by his distinguished and kindly bearing which earned him the title ‘Duke of Farnborough’ to many and ‘father’ to some of his younger colleagues.

Probably his greatest achievement and memorial is the West Kent Postgraduate Centre, opened in 1973. He had the foresight to see the educational needs and political significance of such a development. His keen commercial sense and drive made him the prime mover of this venture. Money was raised from colleagues in the hospitals and in general practice, from friends and patients and a fine purpose-built centre was constructed, one of the first in the south east of England. He was the first clinical tutor at the time of its opening and was always a keen supporter.

His sense of fun was always to the fore and was evident in one lecture that he gave to a weekend course for general practitioners. The subject being ‘wind’. This included the recording of a yacht struggling in a stormforce gale and also a dissertation on the ‘skills’ of the Frenchmen Le Petomane who musically entertained many, including some of the crowned heads of Europe, by the expulsion of flatus.

Peter was a man of many interests and was an excellent companion. He was knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects and was particularly interested in people and what was happening around him.

He met his wife Ann, whom he married in 1941, when she took her watch to him for repair. She was then a nurse and he a newly qualified doctor at Guy’s. They had two sons and one daughter. They shared his great love of sailing. For many years a holiday home in Cornwall was the base for this interest. The pinnacle of his ocean racing and cruising career was his transatlantic crossing in 1982 when he sailed his own ocean racer from Gibraltar to Antigua. This was undertaken with his younger son plus a Girl Friday. Unfortunately they missed the tradewinds and for periods were becalmed. The batteries ran down, as did supplies of gin, and radio contact was lost. The result of this was that the crossing took some weeks longer than they had forecast.

At Farnborough Hospital despair for his safe return set in and consideration was being given to his successor but, belatedly, his yacht made a safe haven in Antigua. One bottle of champagne had been saved for this moment.

He died of carcinomatosis, an illness he bore with characteristic fortitude, often telephoning cheerily with an update on what was usually rather bad news.

C F P Wharton

(Volume X, page 405)

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