Lives of the fellows

John Clifford Roberts

b.31 October 1905 d.28 March 1988
MRCS LRCP(1931) MB BS Lond(1936) MD(1939) MRCP(1941) FRCP(1969)

John Roberts was consultant physician at Harefield Hospital for many years until his retirement in 1970. He was brought up in Swansea, the only surviving boy in a family of girls,and was educated at Swansea Grammar School and the University of Wales. He was originally destined to follow his father into business as a builders' merchant, but it soon became clear after a trial period that he had no taste for business affairs. One of his sisters, a nurse, suggested that he might make a good doctor and therefore he went up to St Bartholomew’s Hospital where he qualified in 1931. In later years it gave him particular pleasure that his daughter Marion followed in his footsteps and also entered Bart’s to study medicine.

John returned to Wales after qualification and worked for a number of years in general practice not far from Maesteg. He had always been fond of children and decided to specialize in chest medicine with particular reference to its paediatric aspects. He took up a number of house posts in hospitals in East London, culminating in a post as resident medical officer at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in Hackney. From 1941-1943 he was medical officer for Middlesex County Council, then being appointed as consultant chest physician to Harefield Hospital where he soon distinguished himself as a shrewd diagnostician. At that time, tuberculosis and bronchiectasis were very common conditions both in children and adults. It is now commonplace for chest physicians to do their own bronchoscopies, but John Roberts was one of the early practitioners of the art among the physicians of his day.

John Roberts was devoted to his work and to his patients, in whom he took a fatherly interest. He would often go to the hospital on Sundays to see relatives, some having come from considerable distances to visit the sick patients. Many of the children suffered from extrapulmonary forms of tuberculosis, such as tuberculous spines, and required long periods of hospitalization. The links between John Roberts and his patients became very close and many of them kept in touch with him for years after their recovery, and even after he had retired.

He was dedicated to the principles of the National Health Service and steadfastly refused to undertake any private work. His opinion on difficult cases was eagerly sought by his colleagues, both senior and junior, and was always given freely and unsparingly. He moved some of his sessions away from the rarified atmosphere or the Chest Hospital and served as district health physician at Hemel Hempstead during the latter part of his consultant career.

In 1940 he married Mary Gertrude Tate, a medical practitioner, who died in 1963. They had one daughter. Some three years later he married again, and much enjoyed the music which his second wife brought into his life. John was always proud to be a Welshman and had a natural flair as a reconteur; he could illuminate any situation with a suitable story from his vast repertory.

After retirement, John Roberts began a new career as a ship’s doctor, during the course of which he visited Brazil and also sailed up the Nile. He took up painting, attended classes in Spanish, and travelled extensively. He was greatly attached to his garden, where he particularly enjoyed tending roses. He was always willing to lend a hand to his fellow doctors, doing locums both in general practice and as a chest physician. He continued to read and discuss medical topics, and was a regular attender at meetings of the British Thoracic Society.

He was survived by his second wife and by his daughter.

JH Angel

[Brit.med.J., 1988,297,354]

(Volume VIII, page 421)

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