Lives of the fellows

Gerard Sanderson

b.14 November 1912 d.5 February 1987
MB ChB Liverp(1938) MD(1943) MRCP(1941) FRCP(1964)

Gerard Sanderson was born in Didsbury, Manchester. His father, Samuel Sanderson, a respected secretary of an approved Friendly Society and a justice of the peace for Southport, was awarded an MBE by King George VI and made a Knight of St Gregory by the Pope for his services to the Catholic community. He married Annie Howell and they had two sons one of whom was Gerard; the other died in infancy. Their eldest child, a daughter, became a nun.

At the age of 12 years Gerard went to the diocesan seminary at Upholland to study for the priesthood. But this was not to be his vocation. At the age of 16 he left Upholland, matriculated and took a course in optics, leading to a fellowship of the Spectacle Makers Company in 1931. He practised for a time in Manchester, mostly on insurance work, and had an appointment at one of the Liverpool hospitals dispensing spectacles to consultants’ prescriptions. Following a period in hospital for an appendicectomy, he decided to study medicine and in 1932 he registered as a medical student at Liverpool University, where he qualified with a gold medal in obstetrics. He was appointed house physician to Wallace-Jones [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.433], and after a period as registrar was promoted to resident medical officer. In the latter post he came under the influence of Henry Cohen, later Lord Cohen of Birkenhead [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.106], for whom he always maintained a warm affection and the greatest admiration; both were reciprocated.

Because of a delicate constitution he was not accepted for military service at the outbreak of war. But he made a valuable contribution through an attachment to the Liverpool school of tropical Medicine. ICI had given a number of antimalarial compounds to A R D Adams for clinical trial and Sanderson played a part in that work which led to the final product proguanil (Paludrine). He was co-author of publications on the trials but he declined to have his name associated with the definitive one on Paludrine; characteristically, he reckoned that his contribution did not merit it. In fact, his assistance to the work of the Tropical School was of great value at a time when medical manpower in Liverpool was stretched to the limit and hundreds of Service personnel were being sent home with tropical diseases.

In 1944 Gerard married Gwyneth Owen, the daughter of a Welsh farmer. She had been the nursing sister in charge of his ward when he was a houseman. There were no children of the marriage.

Sanderson was appointed consultant in 1946 to the Royal Southern Hospital, a branch of the United Liverpool Teaching Hospital, to which he gave devoted service until his retirement, and afterwards as chairman of the hospital authority archives committee. He was also consultant to the Waterloo Hospital and to the Ormskirk General and District Hospital. Often he would refer to the latter as ‘The University of Ormskirk’ and always took his ‘firm’ there for a taste of work in a country hospital. By his example, and the standard he demanded, he transformed the medical service in that town. In his retirement he founded a medico-literary club for medical and dental practitioners associated with Ormskirk. He named it after Joseph Brandreth, a physician of the town who had been appointed to the staff of the Liverpool Infirmary in 1780.

Sandy, as he was known, became one of the most popular and respected physicians on Merseyside. An exemplary doctor, never seeking the limelight, he was endowed with an innate compassion and kindness. He was a man of quiet strength and, in causes which interested him, of drive and initiative. He had neither the desire nor, in literal truth, the time to climb the ladders to professional acclaim, either in college, specialist association or research. Such paths, he judged, could be explored by those whom he considered more able -and certainly more interested. His professional life was dedicated primarily to his patients and, only just in second place, to his students and disciples of whom there were many. His strategy in diagnosis and therapy was holistic - the whole patient, the family and sometimes the friends, and always the environment, physical and psychological, ethical and religious, all were studied and encompassed in his treatment. He was conservative in that he did not embrace every medical advancement immediately it was introduced, especially if it seemed to involve risk or trauma to his patient, but once convinced of the value of a procedure he was enthusiastic for it.

His belief in apprenticeship was as firm as that of any 18th century physician. He, and only he, would choose the students for his ‘firm’ and his housemen; no dean or any other authority was allowed to stand in his path. Once selected, those boys and girls became his family, and equally that of Gwyneth. They were lucky, for he was an inspiring teacher and ever loyal and supportive to them.

Sandy gave outstanding service to the Liverpool Medical Institution; he was largely responsible for raising funds for an extension to the building, for achieving the presence of HRH Princess Margaret at its opening, and also instrumental in persuading the Privy Council to approve its Royal Charter. To be its president was his sole ambition for professional office. He held every other: librarian, secretary, treasurer and vice-president. But when invited to the chair, 13 years before his death, he had to decline on health grounds. He would never start anything which he felt he could not carry through meticulously and with dignity. For many years the presidents who were elected were second choice to Sandy, who continued to decline the honour.

Sandy was only of moderate height and of slim build. He had simple tastes and few personal wants - although he appreciated comfort, good wine and good food. He was without flamboyance and, although not easily provoked to laughter, had a dry sense of humour which could be very revealing about a situation or person. Such comments would be accompanied by a very characteristic, almost French shrug of the shoulders and raising of eyebrows. That he was a stickler for correct procedure showed in the perfection with which he arranged many professional functions; he was particularly in demand to plan memorial services for colleagues, often himself delivering the address: in character, he left detailed instructions for his own which was to be, preferably, on a Saturday so that his colleagues would not have to miss clinics or ward rounds.

All things of beauty mattered greatly to him, especially the countryside, and the sea and the shore by which he lived for the greater part of his active life. He loved books and music, and played the piano effectively and with delicacy, often accompanying his wife whose singing he enjoyed. Unfortunately he was an inveterate smoker. As a result, he was to endure for many years much suffering and immense frustration, but always with courage, fortitude, and a determination to fulfill his commitments - as he did almost to the end.

Gerard Sanderson was not a religious man in the conventional sense but he remained in the faith of his parents. His attitude in this respect is best summed up in the words of Pasteur, in his speech on his reception into the Académie Française, April 27,1882: ‘Happy is he who bears a god within himself, an ideal of beauty, and obeys him: an ideal of art, an ideal of science, an ideal of the nation, an ideal of the virtues of the Gospel. These are the living springs of great thoughts and great actions. All are illuminated by reflections of the infinite.’ Familiar medical Quotations, ed.Maurice B Strauss, London, J & A Churchill Ltd., 1968.

TC Gray

[Brit.med.J., 1987,294,713-4; Lancet, 1987,1,639]

(Volume VIII, page 431)

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