Lives of the fellows

Michael John Riley

b.12 October 1935 d.1987
MB ChB Cape Town(1959) MRCP(1968) FRCP(1980)

Michael John Riley was born in Coventry but in 1947, to avoid the expected evils of the National Health Service in England, his father, a general practitioner, brought his family by sea to Cape Town - en route for the opportunities of postwar Southern Rhodesia. Tragedy struck on the journey and, after a short illness which started at sea, Mike’s mother died soon after disembarking. The father and two sons continued on their planned journey, and John Riley became a well respected practitioner in Salisbury for more than 30 years.

Mike completed his secondary schooling at St George’s College, Salisbury, and his undergraduate medical training at Groote Schuur Hospital and the University of Cape Town, graduating in 1959. Returning to Salisbury, he became one of the first interns at Harare Central Hospital in 1960, working there for a further year before returning to England for training in internal medicine and rheumatology at the Hospital of St Cross, Rugby, 1962-65, the MRC rheumatology research unit, Taplow, 1965-67, and the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, 1967-69. He took up the post of lecturer in the department of medicine at the then University of Rhodesia, becoming senior lecturer three years later. In 1977 he became dean of the faculty of medicine for three years, and in the same year was appointed inaugural professor and chairman of the department of clinical pharmacology, holding the latter post until leaving the country, now Zimbabwe, in 1983. He was appointed dean of medical studies at the Military Hospital, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1983. He first became ill while on holiday in Corsica with his family and returned immediately to England.

While working in Rugby, Mike met Kathleen, a little dark-haired Irish theatre nurse, and they married in 1963. They were an ideally contrasted couple, with Kay’s vivacity and forthrightness affording an ideal foil for his quieter and more intense disposition. They had three children, two boys and a girl.

Although Mike’s principal interest was rheumatology, a field in which many patients were helped by his particular expertise, kindly interest and sympathy, he was a true general physician - a necessity in the context of the developing country in which he spent the major part of his practising life. He undoubtedly had more than a passing interest in clinical pharmacology, but his moving into a new department specializing in this area probably had more to do with his ability to influence administrators to his own advantage and a desire to move out of a department in which he felt restricted, than by a prime concern for drugs and their clinical applications. Mike read widely, remembered well, thought logically, and could pass on his knowledge to others, to which many generations of students benefiting from his quiet and thorough persistence will bear witness for years to come. To his colleagues he was ever a haven of sound advice in troubled times, becoming one of the vital points of reference and stability to which younger, less experienced, or simply less confident, colleagues found themselves turning; a frequent happening in a young medical school. An able administrator and committee man, his agenda was often over-loaded. Nevertheless, he was always better prepared than most - if not all - and his knowledge and opinions demanded attention and found frequent agreement.

Mike’s leisure interests were wide, and varied from his early passion for motor racing and an active involvement with the Territorial Army, as captain with the RAMC and 7th Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers, to his enjoyment of bridge, golf and trout fishing. As in his work, his devotion to his hobbies was deep and brooked no external interference. In times when personal safety could not be taken for granted, during the Independence War in Rhodesia, fishing isolated trout streams in the eastern districts was never given up in deference to guerilla activity in the area but simply required the addition of an Ouzi submachine gun to the more usual items of fishing equipment. The bag did not seem to suffer!

But, above all, Mike was a family man, who loved also the company of his friends. Relaxing weekends round the pool and barbecue would find him happily splashing with the youngsters, smoke-shrouded over the grilled food or languorously stretched, chatting away the afternoon sun in his soft drawl, his conversation spiked with wit and frequent reminiscences of his student days.

Following a year’s illness and disabilty, remarkably borne and devotedly attended by his wife, he died in Leicester.

RI Dent

(Volume VIII, page 415)

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