Lives of the fellows

Margaret Dorothy Snelling

b.20 September 1914 d.24 April 1997
MB BS Lond(1938) MRCP(1941) DMR(1942) FRCS(1944) FFR(1952) FRCP(1968)

Margaret Snelling was a consultant radiotherapist at the Middlesex Hospital from 1949 to 1979 and the first female president of the European Association of Radiology in 1978. She qualified at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine for Women in 1938. Her career was dictated not only by her capabilities but by the intervention of the Second World War. Following house jobs at the Royal Free and in Chelmsford, she became an assistant radiotherapist at the Middlesex Hospital in 1940, during which time she gained her MRCP and her DMR. With the men away at war she became a surgeon, initially in general and neurosurgery at Chase Farm Emergency Hospital, where she gained her FRCS. She was a general and orthopaedic surgeon at Haymeads Emergency Hospital in Bishop’s Stortford from 1944 to 1946 and was, for a short while, an assistant neurosurgeon in Sheffield. However, in 1947, she returned to the Meyerstein Institute of Radiotherapy where she became assistant radiotherapist and deputy director under the directorship of her guide, philosopher and friend, Sir Brian Windeyer [q.v.].

Besides her consultant appointment at the Middlesex Hospital in 1949, she became a consultant at the Marie Curie Hospital and to Bedford General: both of these hospitals she also served with dedication and love. She was director of the Meyerstein Institute of Radiotherapy from 1969 to 1979.

She initially travelled very widely in her retirement, cementing old friendships. Sadly, she was much diminished by Alzheimer’s disease in her latter years.

An outstanding feature was her kindness and consideration for her patients. This was delightfully demonstrated in her joint clinics with Richard Hanley and Sir Douglas Ranger. Her passionate involvement with the care of her patients led to the development, with Mrs Lily Barber, of Cancer Care, an organization for the care and comfort of patients at the Middlesex Hospital. This charity still continues to flourish and provides much needed support, ranging from flowers for the waiting room to the provision of counsellors.

A fascinating aspect of Margaret Snelling was her interest in and knowledge of early computers. In fact her presidential address at the British Institute of Radiology was on the use of computers in radiology. She was an enthusiastic advocate. It must be noted that the talk was given in 1967!

The international dimension of her career will be remembered most. I am sure that there is no place, especially in the developing world, where radiotherapy is used, or where patients have cancer, that is not sad at her death. I cannot remember a time at the Meyerstein Institute of Radiotherapy when there were not several postgraduates from other countries being taught in the department.

‘M D S’ was the shorthand by which she was known to generations of radiographers, physicists and registrars, and to a very chosen few, I understand, she will be remembered by the affectionate nickname of‘Blossom’.

Margaret Snelling was kind, intelligent, far-sighted, tenacious, gregarious, sociable and very tough. All these attributes she brought to the fight to improve care for patients with cancer. She was a great lady.

Margaret Spittle

[Clinical Oncology, 1997,9,271]

(Volume X, page 458)

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