Lives of the fellows

Edmund Anthony Spriggs

b.30 March 1918 d.28 December 1988
BA Oxon(1939) BM BCh(1942) MRCP(1943) DM(1952) FRCP(1966)

Edmund ‘Tony’ Spriggs was born in Banff, the son of a distinguished physician, Sir Edmund Ivens Spriggs KCVO [Munk's Roll, Vol.IV, p.468]. His mother, Alice Mary, nee Watson, was the daughter of a farmer. ‘Tony’ was the first of two sons, who effectively provided a second family for parents tragically bereaved by the loss of two older daughters in a drowning accident. His father, Sir Edmund, had been a physician at Guy’s prior to becoming dean at St George’s Hospital medical school, but his professional life in London was cut short by a pleural effusion, presumably tuberculous, and the family moved to Banff, Scotland, in the hope of aiding his recovery. This did indeed follow and Edmund Spriggs Snr returned to medicine with considerable vigour to found, or help to found, two new diagnostic clinics - firstly in Banff (Duff House) and secondly in Denbigh (Ruthin Castle). The latter was particularly successful, received royal patronage and led to Sir Edmund’s knighthood. The early years of Tony Spriggs and his brother Arthur were consequently privileged, and greatly influenced by the beauties and pastimes of rural Britain - an influence which was reinforced by their mother's farming background.

Both sons followed their father’s prescribed course of education -Oxford preparatory school, Winchester, and Oxford University - and both duly entered the medical profession. For Tony, this meant an initial house physician post in 1942 at the Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith, and war service in the Army soon afterwards. He served as a regimental medical officer in India and France, as well as in Britain, and eventually returned to civilian life and the Postgraduate Medical School in 1947. He developed an interest in gastroenterology and, after further house and registrar appointments, undertook a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in 1950-51. His plans to visit the United States coincided with the start of his long and happy marriage to Sheila More, although the plains of Minnesota proved to be rather less attractive to the bride than the groom.

They returned to Britain in 1951 when Tony became a physician to the Ruthin Castle clinic, his father having died in 1949. By that time the NHS had taken over most of the country’s hospitals and clinics, and the privately endowed Ruthin Castle entered an inevitable decline prior to closure and sale. Tony completed his DM thesis concerning mobility of the colon and rectum, became an enthusiast of the new order of medicine, changed his allegiance to chest diseases, and in 1953 moved to the north east of England. In 1955 he was appointed physician to the Barrasford Tuberculosis Sanatorium, the Northern Counties Chest Hospital and Newcastle General Hospital, which was to become one of three teaching hospitals of the medical school of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. With the sequential closures of the sanatorium and chest hospital he came to work wholly at Newcastle General Hospital by the time of his retirement in 1983.

His 28 years on Tyneside were busy and eventful. He made his greatest impact as a deeply caring physician, though he contributed his share to administrative duties and wrote modestly, if not prolifically, on a wide variety of subjects. He was instrumental in founding Northern ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), chaired the consultant staff committee, became postgraduate tutor, and served as treasurer and president of the North of England Thoracic Society.

Tony Spriggs was a keen member of the British Society for the History of Medicine, and much of his writing centred on this interest: ‘...the best reason for reading the history of medicine is the fun of it. But it also puts into perspective the fashion of the day.’ His collaborative work with Bryan Gandevia, a fellow chest physician and historian from Sydney, on John Hutchinson, a Tynesider by birth, E A Spriggs, Med.Hist.,21 ,Oct 1977,357-64 and B Gandevia, Med.Hist., 21,Oct 1977, 365-83; on spirometry, E A Spriggs, Brit.J. of Diseases of the Chest, 1978, 165-80, and Hutchinson’s colourful experiences in the Antipodes, were particularly notable. Spriggs was also a man of some wit, and as recently as 1979 managed to publish within the columns of The Lancet an account of his imprisonment within a faultily locked toilet at Newcastle’s newly built Freeman Hospital.

Away from his work he was a man of many parts. His marriage and children were sources of great contentment. The family medical traits were preserved, and his two daughters became nurses, while one of his sons became a physician. Shooting, fishing and natural history were continuing passions from childhood, while in later life he took up gardening, Persian rugs and book binding. Retirement was celebrated by a university refresher course in Latin, and increased service to his village church. It lasted a little over five years and must have been as fulfilling as ever.

His former secretaries and nurses must have the last word: ‘Dr Spriggs was quite the finest gentleman we ever knew. He was kind, compassionate, warm, human and above all humourous. He made everybody - staff, patients, colleagues, friends and neighbours - all feel as if they were important to him. He always remembered to ask after one’s family, always by name, and was interested to know how they were getting on. His patience and kindess were an inspiration to all who knew him - he was truly a Christian man.’ Indeed; in the traditional sense, he was a scholar and a gentleman.

DJ Hendrick

(Volume VIII, page 481)

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