Lives of the fellows

Harold Ernest Thomas

b.24 October 1919 d.24 March 1986
MRCS LRCP(1942) MB BS Lond(1943) MRCP(1947) MD(1949) FRCP(1972)

Harold Thomas was born in Middlesborough, the son of Ernest Thomas, a medical representative for a pharmaceutical company, and his wife Holly Rosaline Amesbury whose father was in the Merchant Navy. He was educated at Dulwich College and won an open scholarship to the University of London. His clinical undergraduate training was at University College Hospital, where he won the Fellowes gold medal in clinical medicine and graduated in 1943. He subsequently gained his membership of the College and was elected a Fellow in 1972.

After house appointments at UCH and the Brompton Hospital, he served in England and Germany as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1944-47. After his Army service, he became registrar at UCH, and in 1951 was appointed consultant chest physician to the Birmingham regional hospital board, in which post he remained until his retirement in 1984. Initially he provided a service at the Yardley Green Sanatorium (later incorporated into the East Birmingham Hospital), Selly Oak, Solihull and West Heath Hospitals, but he later gave up his commitment at Selly Oak and West Heath as the need for beds for tuberculosis patients fell and the East Birmingham Hospital, together with Birmingham Chest Clinic, became a major centre for tuberculosis, chest surgery and chest medicine.

Harold’s professional lifetime saw the introduction and widespread use of anti-tuberculous drugs. When he began, tuberculosis was his main concern; by the time of his retirement it occupied only a small part of the chest physicians’ day. He developed the Birmingham tuberculosis drug resistance register, and won the research prize of the British Tuberculosis Association in 1958 for a paper entitled ‘Retrospective survey of tuberculosis patients developing drug-resistant bacilli.’ Further papers on this topic followed,the last published posthumously.

Away from the wards, he was active in local medical politics and was president of the Solihull division of the British Medical Association. He also served on the East Birmingham district health authority. He was the British member of the sub-committee on statistics and epidemiology of the International Union Against Tuberculosis from 1964-67, and was president of the Midland Thoracic Society from 1982-85.

Harold was almost invariably good humoured and his presence in a building was often quickly announced by his loud and distinctive laugh. He tended to come to work early and to make a point of bidding a hearty good morning to everybody he met. These traits were occasionally wearing to those less lively early in the day. He was a keen student of the group psychology of committee meetings, believing that rather than telling a difficult colleague the right thing to do it was better to approach matters obliquely and allow the colleague to discover and suggest the right course of action for himself. Harold’s contributions in committee where, therefore, often enigmatic and occasionally incomprehensible but his listeners, on later reflection, sometimes saw the light as he saw it.

He married Elizabeth Jean Anderson in 1947 and they had two children, Anne Elizabeth and Peter Angus. He was a devoted family man. His wife, children and two grandchildren survived him.

Harold enjoyed robust health until he suffered a stroke, from which he never fully recovered, at the summer meeting of the British Thoracic Society in York in 1985. Ironically this presented as a dysphasia while he was asking a question in the discussion period following a paper on drug-resistance in tuberculosis.

C Skinner

[Brit.med.J., 1986,293,274]

(Volume VIII, page 504)

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