Lives of the fellows

Kenneth Moorhouse Robertson

b.20 January 1907 d.11 April 1981
MB BS Lond(1930) MRCP(1935) FRCP(1947) MRCPE(1958) FRCPE(1963)

Kenneth Robertson was a son of a missionary working in Rhodesia. He was educated at Eltham School and went with a scholarship to St Thomas’s Hospital. His student career was distinguished and he won the William Tite and Musgrove scholarships, William Dunn prize, Mead medal, Bristow medal, Wainwright prize and Beaney scholarship. He qualified in 1929, and he gained the MB BS London with honours in 1930. Despite the hope that he would stay at St Thomas’s he went straight into general practice in Winchester, where besides practising in the town he was one of the doctors to Winchester College.

Even before he had a hospital appointment his colleagues in practice were asking his advice about their more difficult problems. He shared the Murchison scholarship with J St C Elkington in 1930, and gained the MRCP in 1935. He was appointed consultant physician in 1936, continuing also with his practice. In 1947 he was elected FRCP, and he then gave up his general practice, shortly afterwards becoming consultant physician at the Royal South Hants Hospital, Southampton. He also consulted at Lord Mayor Treloar’s Hospital, and at Lymington and Romsey Hospitals.

Kenneth Robertson devoted very nearly all of his efforts to medicine and his capacity for hard work was legendary. He built up a very large practice, both inside and outside hospital, and was in great demand to visit patients in their homes, which he often did in the evenings. Patients were often surprised by the late hour at which he would come to make a consultation. For many years he had a photographic recording electrocardiograph, and his juniors would often find him in the hospital around midnight developing the tracings he had made during the visits of the evening. His kindness and humanity and his touch in dealing with patients, perhaps strengthened by his years in general practice, endeared him to all and he was held in universal love and admiration.

Despite his busy life with the patients, he was up to date with publications over a wide range of journals to a quite astounding degree. He managed this by reading into the small hours, and it was said that if he took a holiday (which he rarely did) his luggage consisted of a spare shirt packed between journals and textbooks. Though not a prolific publisher, he had important papers on temporal arteritis, on hepatitis in Hamburg after the war, and on Weil’s disease of which there was an outbreak in Winchester.

He was an excellent teacher, and held an open round for general practitioners and hospital staff one afternoon a week. A large number of doctors, seldom less than 20, would sit on chairs in the ward, with the patients in their beds, and the cases were discussed openly but tactfully before everybody. Such was his skill in handling the teaching that this never gave rise to any difficulties, and these sessions were invariably interesting and informative. Senior registrars would come in rotation, year after year, from St Thomas’s and never failed to return without being deeply impressed. He was a founder member and moving spirit in the Wessex Physicians Club, whose meetings are attended twice annually by physicians from Bath to Worthing. A Kenneth Robertson memorial lecture has been endowed by this club and a distinguished lecturer is soon to give the first presentation in his honour.

Kenneth became the first postgraduate clinical teacher in Southampton in 1963 and together with his colleagues set up the postgraduate centre, started the library, and arranged for the appointment of a secretary; in this and other ways he was a key figure during the period when the medical school in Southampton was planned.

His ward rounds were always long, as there were so many interesting patients, but they were never tedious. Coffee and sandwiches would be taken in the Sister’s room and often at these times Kenneth would recall events during his life as a doctor. Some of these stories, such as that of a man who had three consultants down from London in one day; or of the warden of the College who insisted on having his operation in the school sanatorium and bought an operating table for the purpose, gave insight into medicine as it used to be, while other stories had a more clinical message. All were fascinating.

At a late stage in his career Kenneth thought that he was in need of refreshment and decided to take the Edinburgh MRCP course. He sat through the lectures and clinicals, and it was a surprise to a recent senior registrar at Southampton, who had been appointed to a post in Edinburgh, to find the roles were reversed and he was expected to teach his former mentor! At the end of the course he insisted on taking the examination, and passed to become MRCP Edinburgh in 1958. Later he was elected FRCP Edinburgh in 1963.

Patients would visit Kenneth from all over Hampshire. He was always very modest about his success and when once asked if his patients visited him at his house he replied ‘Yes, both of them’. His commitment to medicine left little time for outside pursuits but one abiding interest, apart from his family, was rugby football. At Eltham he had played for Kent Schoolboys, and he later played for Scottish Schoolboys. At St Thomas’s Kenneth played in the famous cup winning side of 1926, and he later became a referee. In later years he would seldom miss an important match on television.

Kenneth Robertson was greatly admired by his many registrars and housemen who benefited much from his wisdom and teaching, and nearly all of them returned to Southampton to honour him at a dinner when he retired. For several years after retirement he worked in general practice with his son-in-law in Surrey.

In 1930 he married Eleanor Margaret Greening, whose loving support made possible his remarkable achievements. They had five children, of whom three are doctors.

J Bamforth

[Brit.med.J., 1981, 282, 2064; 283, 239]

(Volume VII, page 498)

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