Lives of the fellows

Neville Southwell

b.23 June 1915 d.21 February 1992
BA Cantab(1937) MRCS LRCP(1941) MB BChir(1941) MA(1941) MRCP(1942) MD(1948)FRCP(1966)

Neville Southwell was born in Highgate. His father Joseph Edward Southwell was a director of a leather business and worked in Soho. His mother Mary née Jennings was an actress and, to those who knew Neville later in life and who were captivated by the way in which he told marvellous stories, this might explain how he derived such a gift. Among his earlier ancestors was Robert Southwell, armourer to Henry VIII, whose portrait by Holbein hangs in the Uffizzi Gallery in Florence.

Neville was educated at Oundle School, Cambridge University and the Middlesex Hospital, where he met a young nurse, Elizabeth Deck, daughter of a ranch manager in Argentina. They were married in 1941, had three sons and a daughter, and celebrated their golden wedding a year before his death.

He qualified in 1940 but was not accepted for service in the Armed Forces because of severe asthma. He became house physician to Geoffrey Marshall, later Sir Geoffrey [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.381] at the Brompton Hospital. He always had the deepest affection for Marshall who was very kind to him. For two years he was registrar at the Brompton and then became medical registrar and tutor at Guy’s Hospital, and later registrar in the chest department, which he virtually ran himself in the absence of Rowan Boland, later Sir Rowan, [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.52] who was abroad on active service. Although not originally a Guy’s man he forged strong bonds with Guy’s which were never subsequently broken. Throughout the war he played a very important role in the running of the hospital and in the care of patients. He would describe how, at night, the staff and students fought fires caused by incendiary bombs and at times watched helplessly when there was no water to put them out. He was, and remained, a marvellous teacher of medicine - for which he was much admired by students and his junior medical colleagues. Many of his friends, returning from war service, had cause to be grateful for his teaching when they worked for their membership of the College.

In 1946 he became consulting physician to Crawley Hospital and, in 1950, he was appointed consultant physician to Orpington and Sevenoaks Hospitals. To these, in 1961, he added Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup, and throughout his professional life in the NHS he was one of the best known and most sought after physicians in west Kent. His popularity with patients, their general practitioners and the many registrars and house physicians who came to work with him, was due to a combination of kindness and unfailing courtesy, a delightful sense of humour, an unusually attractive personality and the gifts of a fine physician - wide medical knowledge, excellent powers of observation, compassion and the ability to make decisions and give sensible advice.

Every week, on Monday afternoons, his rounds at Orpington were attended by local doctors and on Friday afternoons there would be combined rounds with physicians from several hospitals in the area. These were useful, very popular, and great fun. Regular participants learned a good deal of medicine but Neville’s style also made them entertaining occasions. From time to time he would be invited to Guy’s to perform at the combined round there on a Friday afternoon. He invariably produced one or two fascinating cases and always made a big impression on the audience. He led a busy life; his private practice was huge and in Harley Street he saw patients sent from practitioners in London, many parts of England and abroad. He travelled widely and visited patients in their homes, often late at night, and regularly worked on Saturdays - even long after retiring from the NHS. He undertook his share of administrative work in the Health Service, sitting on or chairing numerous local committees and he was a member of the regional health authority.

He had a very happy family life and lived in a delightful house in Sussex overlooking the South Downs. Apart from his professional life, there were three remarkable things about Neville. Strange events seemed to happen when he was about, more than to most people; he had the most wonderful capacity to recount stories and he was one of those rare people who always made one feel better for having met them. He and his wife once entered a bank in Italy to change some traveller’s cheques. While they were waiting some gunmen burst in and held up the bank. Elizabeth protested at having to hold up her hands but Neville persuaded her to do so and they escaped unharmed, although they were dismayed to find that they could not change their traveller’s cheques afterwards because there was no money.

Before the war, Neville was playing golf with a young friend on a course in Hertfordshire. In front of him was the then Prince of Wales - later Edward VIII - and Mrs Dudley Ward. One of the holes was a dogleg with a bell at the corner to enable players to indicate to those behind them that they could drive off. While Neville and his opponent waited on the tee for the bell to ring, a queue of other golfers gradually formed behind them. Eventually Neville was persuaded to advance along the fairway to find out what was happening; he found the Prince of Wales prone on the grass with Mrs Dudley Ward lying several feet away. HRH looked up and said: ‘Are we keeping you waiting, dear boy? We are looking for a four-leaf clover.’ Neville could recount hundreds of stories like these with great style. He was marvellous company and a very lovable man.

R K Knight

[Guy's Hosp. Gaz., May 1992,162-63]

(Volume IX, page 493)

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