Lives of the fellows

Victor Millington Synge

b.5 September 1893 d.25 February 1976
BA Dubl(1916) MB BCh BAO(1918) DPH(1919) MD(1919) MRCPI(1919) FRCPI(1921) FRCP*(1962)

Victor Synge was born in Dublin, a son of Edward Hatch Synge, a land agent. His mother, Ellen Frances Price, was the daughter of James Price, a civil engineer. His uncle, John Millington Synge, was the well known Irish playwright, and his brother John Lighton Synge FRS, was a theoretical physicist of international reputation.

Synge was educated at St Andrews College, Dublin, from which he entered Trinity College, Dublin. He won many prizes as an undergraduate and was elected to a foundation scholarship of the College in experimental science. After graduating BA in 1916 he volunteered and served as a surgeon probationer, RNVR. On qualifying in medicine he was at once appointed assistant to the professor of pathology. He resigned the post three years later on being elected visiting physician to the Royal City of Dublin Hospital, an appointment which he held until his retirement in 1972.

In academic medicine he held most of the posts available to him in turn. First at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, he was successively professor of preventive medicine and medical jurisprudence and then professor of medicine. He resigned the latter appointment in 1934 when he was elected King’s professor of the practice of medicine at Dublin University. This chair he held until its abolition in 1962. He had already become the first full time professor of clinical medicine in 1955, and the next year was elected regius professor of physic. He was a past president and honorary member of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland.

Synge was essentially a scholar. His friends regretted that he read so much but wrote so little. His contributions to local meetings always attracted an appreciative audience, combining his very personal wit with often iconoclastic findings on some fashionable test or therapy. His formidable intelligence was more often used critically than constructively. A conscientious general physician of authority and wide range, he was popular with students as a logical, lucid and entertaining clinical teacher. He was not successful in directing the energies of his juniors, for he had little inclination to delegate clinical responsibility or to encourage research. Although he enjoyed travel and had a useful knowledge of European languages, he seemed to have few interests outside his work. He could be found in his wards seven days a week until his eightieth year. He then retired to his cottage in the Dublin hills, where he cultivated his forestry plantation until his death in 1976.

In 1919 he married Mary Edith, daughter of John Allen, farmer, of Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow. She died in 1973. They had two sons.

DM Mitchell

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

[, 1976, 2, 118]

(Volume VII, page 565)

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