Lives of the fellows

Richard Alun (Sir) Rowlands

b.12 September 1885 d.1 March 1977
KBE(1946) CBE(1944) OBE(1920) BSc Wales(1906) MRCS LRCP(1911) MB BS Lond(1914) MD(1916) MRCP(1916) FRCP(1924) Hon LLD Wales(1946)

Alun Rowlands was born in the Bryngwran Valley in Anglesey, the son of Richard Rowlands, a master tailor and draper, and of Anne, daughter of Owen Griffith, a farmer. He never lost the manner of speech nor the warmth of heart of his native island.

Educated at the Beaumaris Grammar School and the University College of North Wales, he obtained a BSc before entering the London Hospital Medical College in 1907 with a science scholarship. He qualified with the conjoint diploma in 1911 and took the MB BS with honours and distinction in medicine in 1914, the MD and the MRCP in 1916, and was elected FRCP in 1924.

After qualification he spent two years as demonstrator and lecturer in physiology, and as assistant to the lecturer in cardiac research, James (later Sir James) Mackenzie, followed by appointments at the London Hospital as house physician and house surgeon. In 1914 he volunteered for the RAMC, but was seconded to become medical registrar at the London Hospital from 1914 to 1920, in which year he received the OBE. He became physician to Poplar Hospital for Accidents in 1919, medical tutor at the London in 1920, and assistant physician to the London Hospital in 1934. He was also at different times a member of council of the College, president of the section of medicine of the RSM, and an examiner for the conjoint board and the Universities of London and Liverpool. In 1950 he published A study of psittacosis jointly with Robert (later Sir Robert) Hutchison and SL Simpson.

In 1939 Rowlands, having never before shown nautical leanings, surprised even some of his closest friends by blossoming as a temporary surgeon rear-admiral RN (though he had in fact been civilian consultant to the Royal Navy since 1937). In this capacity he served mostly at RN Hospital Haslar till 1946, when he was awarded the KBE and made honorary LLD by the University of Wales. He then returned to civilian life and to the London Hospital, until he retired in 1951. Thereafter he continued for some years to live and practise in Harley Street.

Despite the fact that generations of students and junior staff made fun of ‘Daddy’ Rowlands’ accent and mannerisms, he was a considerable figure in the London Hospital. He was a first class clinician, and at his own pace, which sometimes seemed painfully slow, he solved problems which had defeated his faster working colleagues. His thoroughness was proverbial, as was the seeming prolixity of his clinical notes all written in a fine round hand. It was a great tragedy to him that his voluminous notes of many years’ work were destroyed by enemy action. As a teacher he was painstaking in the extreme, if hardly dynamic.

In the Royal Navy he was much appreciated for his evident clinical skill and for his fight to retain the keeping of naval health statistics. Throughout the war he combined his naval duties with those of president of the Anglesey Agricultural Society; it was no surprise, therefore, that in his years at Haslar and purely by his own physical efforts he kept the officers’ mess supplied with fresh vegetables — delighting, it is said, in being mistaken for the regular gardener. Rowlands was a man held in genial affection by patients, hospital and private, students and colleagues. Above all, he was a son of Wales who is said never to have missed his daily reading from the Welsh Bible given him by his mother.

In 1962 he sprang a second surprise. Apparently a confirmed bachelor till the age of 77, he announced his marriage to Lucienne Delva, widow of JP Delva and daughter of Albert Hauchamps, a solicitor. Though increasing deafness limited his social life in later years, he enjoyed the companionship of Lucienne till he died in the Westminster Hospital at the age of 91.

RR Bomford

[Brit.med.J., 1977, 1, 719, 981, 1165; Times, 2 Mar 1977]

(Volume VII, page 507)

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