Lives of the fellows

Frank Ridehalgh

b.4 June 1907 d.1 January 1977
BA Cantab(1929) MRCS LRCP(1932) MA MB BChir(1935) MD(1948) DM Oxon(1962) MRCP(1943) FRCP(1950)

Frank Ridehalgh was born at Rishton, Blackburn; his father was Fred Ridehalgh, a furniture dealer, who married Bertha Ann Greenwood, daughter of a shopkeeper. He attended local schools, including the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Blackburn, from which he obtained Tattersall and Irvine scholarships to take him to King’s College, Cambridge. He obtained an open scholarship to Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, where he was Travers prizeman in practical midwifery, and he obtained class prizes in several other subjects.

After house jobs at Charing Cross he took a post at Frimley Sanatorium, and this led to his appointment as the first Prophit Scholar of the College, an appointment made possible by a legacy from the late JMG Prophit for research in tuberculosis. Frank Ridehalgh readily grasped the opportunity for research on a group basis into the disease which at that time was a major cause of death and disability in young adults. The concept of multi-centre studies then hardly existed, but he obtained cooperation from many hospitals, medical schools, tuberculosis clinics and industrial firms, to establish the work of the survey amongst different population groups. His natural courtesy, and ability to get on with people from all walks of life, undoubtedly contributed to the success of this project, which required a great deal of organization and careful tuberculin testing. It was on the firm foundations laid by Frank Ridehalgh that the scholars who followed him were able to build, and ultimately to produce the report of which he was co-author.

A short period as tuberculosis officer in Staffordshire followed, and then some ten years in the Leeds Chest Service, where from 1943 he was senior chest physician during the difficult war years and the reorganization of the tuberculosis service subsequently. A colleague of those days recalls particularly the clinical discussions that he organized with the involvement of thoracic surgeons as well as physicians. In 1951 he was appointed to Oxford, where he took over from William Stobie, who had been appointed by Sir William Osier to be in charge of tuberculous patients some 40 years previously. Ridehalgh retired in December 1970. During that period he supervised the development of the Oxford Chest Services to include all aspects of modern respiratory medicine. In spite of a period of ill health, which caused him a great deal of physical discomfort at the time of his arrival in Oxford, he took over his new job with enthusiasm and his warm and friendly personality soon made him many friends in Oxford. The University, recognizing his efforts in the teaching sphere, made him a lecturer and he later served on the Board of Governors of the Radcliffe Infirmary.

His qualities as a clinician were reflected in the esteem in which he was held by his patients, colleagues and staff. He showed a genuine concern for those in his care or service, and was a keen member of Oxford City Care Committee and president of the Berkshire Care Committee. He was an able committee man, and in addition to serving as chairman of the local medical staff council, he was for many years active in the British Thoracic and Tuberculosis Association, of which he became president. He was for some years after 1954 a member of the Ministry of Health Standing Advisory Committee on Tuberculosis.

His interest in the specialty of chest medicine is shown by his membership of the committee of the Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases Group of the BMA and by the work he continued to do after his retirement, indeed until shortly before his death, in monitoring the posts advertised in the specialty and the problems in filling them. He was among the first to foresee the need to expand the training grades in respiratory medicine, and to include a proper base of general medicine. Both locally and nationally he worked quietly and effectively to achieve these objectives. He work was the subject of a paper in the British Medical Journal, and was of great value to the Joint Tuberculosis Committee of the British Thoracic and Tuberculosis Association and the Thoracic Medicine Committee of the College.

Frank Ridehalgh was a generous host whose many interests outside medicine, which included music, antique furniture, gardening and the photography of alpine plants in their natural surroundings, always made visits to his home a noteworthy occasion. His wife Mollie (born Vera Mary Jones, daughter of a bank manager; they were married in 1936) contributed much to these occasions and was always a great source of strength to him, especially during the final six months of an illness which he knew to be fatal, and which he bore with characteristic fortitude and cheerfulness. He was survived by his wife and their three children, two sons and a daughter.

VH Springett

[Brit.med.J., 1977, 1, 1035; Lancet, 1977, 1, 867]

(Volume VII, page 495)

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