Lives of the fellows

William George Adrian Swan

b.5 October 1907 d.18 October 1988
MB BS Durh(1930) MRCP(1933) MD(1937) FRCP(1950)

Adrian Swan was born in Cullercoats on the Northumbrian coast, the son of Charles Swan a solicitor and his wife Edna Beatrice Mason. He attended Newcastle Preparatory School, followed by Felsted. He then entered the College of Medicine, Newcastle upon Tyne, at that time part of the University of Durham. He won the Pears and Dickinson scholarships, graduated in 1930 and obtained his doctorate, with gold medal, in 1937. He passed the membership examination of the College in 1933 and was later elected a Fellow.

Swan held house appointments at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle from 1930-31 and was medical registrar from 1931-34. From 1934-42 he was medical registrar at the Newcastle General Hospital. In both hospitals he worked under Sir William Hume [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.206], a cardiologist of world renown and one of the founders of the Cardiac Club (later the British Cardiac Society) from whom Swan acquired his interest and much of his skill in cardiology. He was elected to the British Cardiac Society in 1939, and served on its council from 1959-63.

In 1942 he joined the RAMC as a medical specialist, with the rank of major, and saw service in the UK, Iraq, Iran and Western Europe. It was when he was in Teheran that he met an Austrian musician, Margarethe Meisl, who was later to become his wife.

After leaving the Army in 1945 he was appointed assistant physician at the Newcastle General Hospital, and in 1950 became physician in charge of the newly opened regional cardiovascular department in the same hospital. This centre was the first of its kind in the country and had been envisaged and planned by Sir William Hume well before the introduction of the NHS, with Sir John Charles [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.98] successively medical officer of health in Newcastle and chief medical officer in the Ministry in London. Swan remained in this post until he retired in 1972.

Adrian Swan was a man of keen intellect and wide experience, who arrived at a decision quickly and cogently, and who was totally confident in his own judgement. He had little patience with dawdlers or slow thinkers, and lengthy discussions were anathema to him. He also had a cheerful personality and an impish sense of humour. One unhappy feature of his character was that he harboured an intense dislike of one of his cardiological colleagues, to the extent that he tried- unsuccessfully - to have him removed from his appointment. Later, however, his attitude mollified somewhat.

Swan just preceded the post war generation of ‘invasive’ cardiologists and never undertook cardiac catheterization himself, although he readily requested and appreciated the information the newly developing techniques provided. He was not research minded and the amount of original work which came out of the department during his tenure of office was disappointingly small. He wrote a few papers on cardiological subjects, the most notable being ‘Acute non-specific pericarditis’ (jointly), British Heart Journal, 1960, XXII, ‘The heart in haemochromatosis’ (jointly), Brit.Heart J., 1952, XIV, and ‘Peripheral gangrene in myocardial infarction’ (jointly), Brit.Heart J., 1951, XIII. But on the whole he was not inclined to authorship, nor was he a frequent attender at international cardiological conferences.

His opinion was widely sought locally and he had a successful private practice. Because of his forthright approach, sometimes caustic and even intolerant, he made enemies. But he also attracted a band of faithful admirers among both doctors and patients. He was a good teacher, with a clarity of presentation and an appreciation of what really mattered and what did not.

Adrian Swan served on the hospital management committee for many years, including a stint as chairman. His chairmanship was notable for expediting the disposal of committee business by exercising discipline from the chair - so that meetings never dragged on too long. He was prominent among the inaugurators of a branch of the British Heart Foundation in Newcastle which became an effective local fund raiser.

Outside medicine Swan had three absorbing interests: music, salmon fishing and Freemasonary. His love of music started early and lasted throughout his life; he was a competent pianist. Verdi’s operas and Mozart were his favourites, and for some time he went almost annually to the opera at La Scala in Milan, and to concerts in Vienna and Salzburg. It was their common devotion to music - Adrian as a pianist and Margarethe (Gretl) as a violinist - which had brought them together in Teheran in 1945 and led to their marriage in 1951; he by that time being 44 years old and she somewhat older. They played together for their own pleasure and for a small circle of musical friends, but never in public. Both were members of the Newcastle Chamber Music Society for many years.

Salmon fishing was his great relaxation. Year after year he took a rod on the Tweed for a fortnight, in the spring, often making large catches. He only gave it up when it became prohibitively expensive and the catches dwindled.

He was a zealous Freemason, serving his lodge in many capacities and eventually becoming a deputy provincial grand master of Northumberland. For many years he used to take his Tuesday afternoon outpatient clinic in his dinner jacket, preparatory to going on to the lodge meeting.

Gretl died a few years after he retired and he never remarried. As a widower, he managed his flat impeccably and cultivated an interest in Italian cooking at which he became very proficient. Many were the friends who enjoyed one of his delectable meals. Adrian Swan was an unusual person - and never dull.

F S Jackson

(Volume IX, page 503)

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