Lives of the fellows

Bernard Edward Schlesinger

b.23 November 1896 d.25 January 1984
OBE(1945) MRCS LRCP(1923) MB BChir Cantab(1924) MRCP(1925) MD(1930) FRCP(1934)

Bernard must have gone straight into the Army from his public school at Uppingham. He enlisted in the Queen’s Westminster Rifles as a rifleman and served in France, Salonika and Egypt. He then went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and got his BA in 1921. Following house appointments at University College Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street, he determined on a career in paediatrics. In 1927 he was appointed physician to outpatients at Great Ormond Street, and to the Royal Northern Hospital. He had just become a physician in charge of beds at Great Ormond Street in 1939 (which was when I first met him) when his career was again interrupted by war. He volunteered at once and had a distinguished career in the RAMC, ending as a brigadier. He was appointed OBE (military) in 1945. This did not end his RAMC activities for he became the first consultant paediatrician to the Corps and helped to found a paediatric service. He was an original member of the British Paediatric Association, of which he became president in 1953; of the British Cardiac Society, and of the Association of Physicians.

This curriculum says little of Bernard as a man or as a physician. As a man he was gifted with infectious enthusiasm for life in all its aspects, particularly for his profession but also for all the arts; and sport - particularly rugby football and squash racquets. He published many papers on rheumatic fever and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Later he published jointly the definitive paper on the severe form of juvenile idiopathic hypercalcaemia.

Bernard married in 1925. His wife, a notable musician, must have increased his love of music; any house they had had to have room for at least one grand piano. They had five children, but the family’s life was not without tragedy for two daughters were lost at an early age. His own life was threatened by a carcinoma of the colon, which was successfully resected. Even this did not stop him playing squash, and he continued to play well over his sixtieth birthday.

Being a generous man by nature he made a splendid host. He was also compassionate. Few if any of his colleagues knew that in the 1930s he and his wife cared for and saw to the education of no less than 13 refugee children.

I first met Bernard in 1939 when I was a resident at Great Ormond Street but did not become his colleague at UCH, to which he was appointed in 1947, until 1948. He was the easiest of colleagues and I cannot remember a cross word between us during the 17 years we spent together. He started two memorable things at UCH at this time. The first was an intensive care unit for premature babies, which has now developed into an experimental unit with an international reputation. The other was to encourage the whole department to travel, ostensibly to see what other departments were doing but this also had a wider effect, knitting the UCH department more closely and consolidating Bernard’s position at its head.

His love of life and his enthusiasm for everything he did infected everyone who had the pleasure of working with him. This made him an excellent teacher. There must be many paediatricians, including at least four professors, who were influenced by him in their early years.

RE Bonham-Carter

[, 1984,288,494-5,649; Lancet, 1984,1,352; The Times, 10 Feb 1984]

(Volume VIII, page 441)

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