Lives of the fellows

Peter Geoffrey Swann

b.18 February 1921 d.15 October 1988
CBE(1981) OBE(1973) MRCS LRCP(1942) MB BS Lond(1943) MD(1949) MRCP(1949) FRCP(1969) FFOM(1978)

Peter Swann was born at Ilford, Essex, the son of Arthur Swann, an industrial chemist, and his wife Annette Watkins, whose father had an engineering background. He was educated at the Park School, Ilford, and Chigwell School, from where he obtained admission to the London Hospital medical college. He qualified in 1942 and, after house appointments, joined the RAFVR medical branch, where he served until 1946. After the war, following a period in which he was registrar and senior registrar in general medicine at the London and Oldchurch hospitals, he decided to enter the newly emerging specialty of occupational medicine. He was appointed senior medical officer to Esso Petroleum in 1954 and was promoted to chief medical officer in 1961. In 1975 he was appointed director of medical services, Esso Europe Inc., a post he held until retirement in 1984.

Swann served the oil industry well. He was a fellow of the Institute of Petroleum and served on its medical advisory committee. He was a member of the health advisory committee of the oil companies International Study Group for Conservation of Clean Air and Water, Europe, the Working Party of Medical Officers in the Chemical Industry in the EEC, and the Board of Offshore Medical Support Ltd.

Peter’s outstanding quality was an ability to see and seize opportunities. Combined with this was an exceptional flair for working with others, and for being hospitable. It made him an exciting and delightful colleague with whom to work; with Peter something new was always about to happen. In contrast to most people, it generally did happen.

His achievements outside the company were many and distinguished. He was a member of the standing committee on occupational medicine at the College, and attended College meetings and functions regularly. Through his influence, Esso was very generous to the College. His periods as honorary secretary of the Society of Occupational Medicine, member of the occupational health committee of the BMA, examiner in the conjoint diploma of industrial medicine, president of the occupational medicine section of the Royal Society of Medicine, member and latterly chairman of the specialist advisory committee on occupational medicine, and a member of the standing medical advisory committee of the DHSS, convinced him that occupational medicine would not achieve adequate recognition by the profession, or by industry, unless its academic standing was on a par with other branches of medicine. He recognized that the support of the College was crucial in this. He worked assiduously for this support and, with the help of like minded Fellows, this led to the formation of the College working party, of which he was appointed chairman, in 1976. In turn, this led to the formation of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine within the College in 1978. It was fitting that Peter Swann was appointed the first dean of the Faculty, and served for three years in that capacity. He was, therefore, also a member of Council and of the finance committee of the College, and of the Conference of Medical Royal Colleges and their faculties. It would seem likely that without his persistence and his ability to take people with him, the formation of the Faculty would have been long delayed. He helped to set the high academic and ethical standards which the Faculty proposed and the College endorsed. In 1981 he was created CBE, having already received the OBE in 1973.

Peter found time to be honorary medical adviser, and later deputy president, of RoSPA, and also to sail and play golf. He was a charming and convivial host; in appearance short, rotund, balding, with a left facial tic but always affable and good humoured. No one minded being manipulated by him for a good cause.

In 1954 he married Ruth Audrey, daughter of Reginald John Stapleton, a chartered accountant, and they had two children, a son and a daughter.

Peter’s early retirement from Esso in 1984, after 30 years’ of distinguished service, was much regretted. It was sad that he cut himself off from all his old friends, and was not seen at College functions again. In December 1987 he was diagnosed as having a serious illness and died, as he wished, at his home in Frinton.

Dame Josephine Barnes
PAB Raffle

(Volume VIII, page 490)

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