Lives of the fellows

Robert Donald Teare

b.1 July 1911 d.11 January 1979
MRCS LRCP(1936) MRCP(1937) MB BChir Cantab(1938) MD(1948) DMJ(1962) FRCP(1962) FRCPath(1962) Hon LLD Sheffield(1978)

Donald Teare was born in the Isle of Man, the son of a newspaper proprietor, Albert Hugh Teare, a Manxman of note who became a member of the House of Keys, and his wife who was the daughter of a Manx farmer. Schooled at King William’s College, Isle of Man, where he became head scholar, Donald prepared for a medical career at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and entered St George’s Hospital, from where he qualified in 1938, proceeding to MD in 1948. He became a member of the Royal College (by examination) in 1937, and was elected a fellow in 1962. He was a founder fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, serving on its council from 1964 to 1967, and being treasurer from 1968 to 1973.

Donald married Kathleen Gracey, daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gracey of Northcote Manor, Umberleigh in Devon, in 1937, and his family life, enriched by three sons and a daughter, was plainly a vital pivot for his professional life. His charming, warm hearted wife was a constant support to him in his private life. She shared his interest in public service and was a magistrate in London. Donald Teare was elected master of the Society of Apothecaries in 1977, where his comfortable authority and equable character emerged repeatedly in his many easy and humorous speeches.

His early steps in pathology were largely guided by another ‘character’ at St George’s, John Taylor, a large avuncular man of means, to whom over the years Teare bore an increasing resemblance. Amiable and tolerant, they both commanded a natural respect from students and had no need to impose discipline, but acquired affection and respect for their sincerity and ‘plain man’s teaching’ of the basic principles of pathology. Both were plainly authorities in their specialties, and both earned the gratitude of 35 years of students at St George’s and at St Bartholomew’s Hospitals for their sound practical teaching in forensic medicine. Of the two men, Donald Teare emerged as much the more prepared to take the responsibilities of public office, becoming president of the Association of Forensic Pathologists (1961 -1962) and president of the Medico-Legal Society (1965 -1966). He was appointed to a personal chair in the University of London in 1968, and in 1978, in consequence of his many contributions to society, association and conference affairs and his undoubted authority in this field, the University of Sheffield honoured him with the degree of LLD.

His contributions to the literature of his chosen specialty were few. His forte was his power of speech, of constructive comment, of communication with his fellows at meetings, rather than of lengthy textual writing. Comments such as ‘there are quite enough books on the subject’, and ‘especially your own, my dear chap’, ‘there are too many journals’, ‘a good thing if they were all suppressed for a while’, may well explain his relatively few contributions to the literature. After dinner speaking came naturally, almost always without notes. His sense of humour served him well and anything he had to say was couched in the relaxed effortless style that so became his character.

Donald Teare’s contributions to pathology, mainly in the field of medico-legal practice, included recognition in 1958 of that curious hypertrophy of the left ventricular muscle which for a time, with Russell Brock’s surgical interest, became known as ‘Teare’s asymmetrical hypertrophy’, following Teare’s initial description of it in the British Heart Journal. Although he wrote little, he lectured widely and well, being best remembered for his pithy contributions to English and international congresses - in Paris, Budapest, Scandinavia and the United States in particular. He was motivated by a desire to inject his practical experience into the records. He plainly set out to promote a clearer understanding of the safe legal inferences to be drawn from observations, so as to ensure an informed balance between prosecution and defence views. He was above all a reasonable man, placid under work pressure, and imperturbable in the witness box under cross examination, being prepared to accept an alternative proposition if it had substance, and to resist it firmly when it appeared to him to have bias. Lawyers and juries both felt a sense of justice being ‘seen to be done’ when he gave his experienced views. He never sought publicity and shunned the press, referring journalists to the‘officer in charge of enquiries’ with a courtesy that made his refusals to accede to pressure from the press to reveal crime details easily acceptable. His best known crime cases were those of Timothy Evans, the ‘cleft chin‘ murder (Martirosoff), the Camb ‘porthole’ case, and the Podola murder which challenged the ‘McNaughten rules’ in a novel manner.

Donald Teare relaxed in his native Castletown, where he could indulge in golfing companionship and feel his basic Manx independence. An active retirement was, alas, denied him by a succession of minor strokes which fortunately for him ran a short course, eroding only his memory until just before his death. The oft-repeated phrase ‘he will be sadly missed’ is, in Donald Teare’s case, only too true. He was much respected and loved - a combination not always achieved by men of distinction in medicine.

CK Simpson

[Brit.med.J., 1979,1, 354, 483; Lancet, 1979,1, 225; Daily Telegraph, 19 Jan 1979; Brit.med.J., 1967, 4, 812]

(Volume VII, page 571)

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