Lives of the fellows

Peter Charles Sheaff

b.26 March 1938 d.8 October 1997
MB BS Lond(1962) MRCP(1968) FRCP(1984)

Peter Sheaff was a consultant neurologist at St Bartholomews and Oldchurch Hospitals, and latterly at the Royal London, Hertford County and North Middlesex Hospitals. A superb physician, not only was he an excellent diagnostician, but he was also especially talented in the management of patients with neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis or motor neuron disease, where orthodox medicine has little to offer by way of cure. His good humoured support for such patients became legendary and his clinical services were always in demand.

The eldest of three sons, he was born in Kent where his father, Charles Sheaff, was a distinguished police officer. Peter was educated at St Josephs Academy in Blackheath, London, where he developed a strong religious conviction which remained with him throughout his life. Although he spoke little of his faith, his life was governed by Christian principles. He invariably put the needs of others before his own. He became a medical student at the Middlesex Hospital, where he combined academic success with achievements on the sportsfield.

Following qualification in 1962, Peter became house physician to Alan Kekwick at the medical professorial unit of the Middlesex Hospital. His lifelong enthusiasm for neurology was kindled during a post as senior house officer at the West End Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, where he worked for Rowland Hill, Gerald Parsons-Smith [q.v.], Nieman, Milnes and Norman George Hulbert [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.283]. His next appointment, as senior house officer to Sir Denis Hill [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.264], at the academic psychiatry unit at the Middlesex Hospital, led him to consider a career in psychiatry, but after a registrar post at St Albans City Hospital, where he was impressed by John Aldren Turner, he decided to pursue a career within the neurosciences. He was drawn into the expanding field of neurophysiology, where techniques like EEG and nerve conduction were achieving increasing relevance during the 1960s. By 1969 he was a senior registrar at St Bartholomews Hospital and, in 1971, he became a consultant neurophysiologist between St Bartholomew’s and Oldchurch Hospitals. In 1981 he moved from Oldchurch to the Royal London Hospital.

By the late 1970s Peter realized that his real calling remained clinical neurology and, as a reflection of his clinical acumen and sheer hard work, he achieved consultant posts as neurologist to Hertford County and then the North Middlesex Hospitals. He retained his neurophysiology sessions at St Bartholomews until the unit there transferred to the Royal London Hospital, whence he moved to the Royal Free Hospital.

Peters natural reserve was a manifestation of shyness, which hid a tremendous sense of humour. He was a thoughtful and cultured man whose loves beyond medicine and his family were music and the theatre. He was an accomplished cook and his knowledge of wine was elephantine. He was a wonderful host whose wine cellar was his particular passion. It was a cruel irony that neurological complications of his terminal illness robbed him of the use of his legs, but not of his spirit: to the very last he was visiting his patients by wheelchair, guided by his wife Lynne. Never once did he bemoan his lot: he was cheering and mindful of others to the very end. He and his wife had three sons, the eldest of whom is a consultant pathologist.

Jeffrey Gawler

(Volume X, page 442)

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