Lives of the fellows

Richard Thomas Bevan

b.13 January 1914 d.3 July 1997
MRCS LRCP(1938) MB BCh Wales(1939) DPH(1941) MD(1955) FFCM(1972) FRCP(1973)

A passionate believer in the NHS, Richard Thomas Bevan pursued a career in public health in Wales, serving as chief medical officer at the Welsh Office. Generally known to his friends as ‘Dick’, Richard Bevan was born in Ogmore Vale, Glamorgan. An only child, his father was a schoolmaster at Bridgend County Grammar School, where Richard received his secondary education. He went on to the Welsh National School of Medicine. After resident posts in hospitals and a period in general practice he joined the RAF Medical Service and was posted to India. He eventually left the airforce with the rank of wing commander.

After demobilization he held a post at an infectious diseases hospital prior to being appointed lecturer in the department of hygiene and social medicine at the Welsh National School of Medicine. The duties of this post included research, in addition to the regular lectures.

At the end of 1948 he was appointed deputy medical officer of health, Glamorgan, and was able to continue with his academic interests. His new post involved responsibilities in all the functions of a large local health authority, liaison with general practitioners, hospital authorities and mental health services, together with the divisional administration of a large county area.

As deputy principal school medical officer he was able to develop a particular interest in the health of handicapped pupils, including the supervision of a hostel for maladjusted children. Through the latter he liaised with child psychiatrists. It was this interest which led to his obtaining the MD in 1955. His thesis was on ‘deprived children, with particular reference to their physical health, behaviour, level of intelligence and skeletal development progress’.

He was also concerned with the mental health services, the co-ordination of local authority, hospital and general practitioner services, the development of training centres and hostels and in the in-service training of mental welfare officers. As part of his extensive remit he was also involved in maternity and child welfare services, organizing refresher courses for health visitors and midwives and liaison with hospital and general practitioners as a member of area maternity services committees.

In 1957, for a period of nearly a year, he took on additional duties as acting medical officer of health for an urban district council. From time to time he was consulted in regard to sanitary problems and major outbreaks of infectious diseases. It was thus that he became involved in the smallpox outbreak in South Wales which started in January 1962 and was cleared in May of that year.

His public health duties were not confined entirely to the county. For many years he was secretary to the Welsh branch of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, and for more than seven years was a member of the council of this Society. He was also a member of the public health committee of the British Medical Association.

After fourteen years with Glamorgan, Richard was encouraged to apply for an appointment as senior medical officer in the Welsh Board of Health, which he obtained in 1962. In 1965 he succeeded his predecessor as chief medical officer and medical member of the then Welsh Board of Health.

In his twelve years as CMO he contributed to and participated in a number of major changes in the Health Service in Wales. In 1969 the devolution of health powers from the Department of Health and Social Security to the Welsh Office entailed an extensive internal reorganization and expansion of staff and functions. The experience derived from this was of considerable advantage in the reorganization of the National Health Service in 1974. New authorities and administrative structures had to be re-established in a number of disciplines. In the different stages of the negotiations, Richard was a valuable and stabilizing factor through the many changes that had to take place in the complex transition from one type of organization to another. The fact that the results of the upheaval caused relatively little unrest was in no small measure due to the quiet and reassuring influence of the CMO throughout the drastic deployment of medical staff in the public health and administrative fields.

He was involved in the early discussions concerning the future of community medicine and the setting up of a faculty thereof. This ultimately became the Faculty of Public Health Medicine. He was elected a fellow of the Faculty of Community Medicine in 1972. In 1973 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1974 he was appointed an honorary physician to Her Majesty the Queen.

Richard was a big man in every sense of the word, firm of conviction, but not given to airing his views. Thought by a few to be somewhat aloof, he was quietly spoken and reserved. His temperament was equable though he was not gregarious. He was popular with his staff. Throughout all the changes in which he was closely involved he continued calm and unruffled. He concentrated his efforts on minimizing and consolidating the effects of change on the medical staff involved.

Richard was a very keen sportsman, an active participator in his youth and a spectator in his later years. Rugby was his major interest. He played for his school and had a trial for Cardiff. He was interested in tennis and also cricket, being a season ticket holder with Glamorgan County Cricket Club. In later years he was a keen and competitive bowls player. Whilst he was an able carpenter, his long abiding interest was his garden. He was much happier discussing such matters than the internal politics of bureaucracy.

He had an attraction for India, shared by many who had lived and worked in the sub-continent. While in India he was a member of the Delhi Welsh Society, the primary object of which (it would seem) being to celebrate St David’s Day in an appropriate manner: this it apparently did with great success. He was also a dedicated eater of curries.

Richard had a very happy family life. In 1940 he married Beryl Badham, a fellow student. She specialized in pathology, becoming a member of the Royal College of Pathologists. For a number of years she was deputy director of the Welsh Blood Transfusion Service before being appointed director. When Richard retired in 1977 he was able to arrange this to coincide with Beryl’s own retirement. For the first, and last, time they then moved from Wales to live in Shenstone to be near their daughter. Beryl died in 1986, after 46 years of a very happy marriage. They had three children; David, who became a professor of anaesthetics, John, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and Catherine, a dentist.

In spite of deteriorating eyesight he was still able to complete The Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle until the day before he died, to prove to himself that he was mentally ‘all there’. He died of cardiac failure after several years of deteriorating health.

Peter Alwyn-Smith

[Brit.med.J., 1997,315,684]

(Volume X, page 32)

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