Lives of the fellows

Alan Herbert Thompson

b.6 November 1906 d.23 March 1974
BA Dubl(1928) MB BCh BAO(1930) MSc(1930) MD(1932) MRCPI(1932) MRCP(1937) FRCPI(1934) PRCPI(1966-68) FRCP(1967) Hon FACP(1968)

Alan Thompson was born at Wexford, Ireland, the son of William Robert Thompson, director of the engineering firm of Thompson Brothers, Spafield, Wexford. His mother was Eleanor Rachel Bourne, a daughter of Jacob Bourne, gentleman farmer, of Forttown, Tinahely, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. His mother’s first cousin, Edward Henry Taylor, was professor of surgery in Dublin University from 1906 to 1916.

He was educated at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh and at Trinity College Dublin. He graduated in Arts with a first-class Moderatorship and Gold Medal in physiology. Two years later he graduated in medicine and at the same time completed his MSc in biochemistry. He was awarded the Adrian Stokes Memorial Fellowship for postgraduate study in London. On return to Dublin he was appointed clinical pathologist to the Richmond and Rotunda Hospitals, Dublin, and later was lecturer in Applied Physiology in Trinity College, Dublin. In 1942 he was appointed honorary Visiting Physician to the Richmond Hospital, Dublin, later St. Laurence’s Hospital. At the same time he became consulting physician to the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. In 1962 he was appointed professor of medicine in the Schools of Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In 1945 he served in Normandy, France, as Chef de Médicine at the Hôpital de la Croix Rouge for which he received the medal of the Reconnaissance Française. He published papers on nephritis in 1944 and 1950, and in 1952 on heart disease in pregnancy. In 1946 he became Senior Censor and Vice-President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and from 1966 to 1968 was President of the College.

His interests were many and varied. Medical, literary, theatrical, sporting and social groups all claimed him. Whether as physician or colleague, teacher or examiner, golfer or angler, sitting down to the chess board or card table, at billiards or snooker, this quiet little man of so many parts left his mark on each company. With all his gifts, his modesty and self effacement were such that it was no surprise to learn that he was a Friend, and in the setting of that esoteric spiritual company his special qualities were more readily appreciated.

As a teacher he was informed, precise, objective and crystal clear whether addressing a sophisticated medical audience, giving his Ward Clinic to medical students or talking to the public as the Radio Doctor. As an examiner he was patient, attentive, sympathetic and fair. By relieving anxiety he got the best out of each candidate but he never lowered his standards. His remarkable memory made many an examiners’ conference a less tedious affair. He was an ideal committee man, for his usually brief interventions were often worth more than all other contributions to the debate and frequently decided the action. This as a rule he was glad to leave to others.

An abstainer and non-smoker he was much in demand as an after dinner speaker. He enlivened many such evenings for he was a polished performer of delightful wit.

Thompson was above all a philosopher of medicine but much of what he said seems unhappily to have gone unrecorded. The essence can be found in ‘Whither Medicine’, an essay he contributed to the Centenary Number of the Practitioner in 1968. He never spoke ill of his fellows. Many whom the rest of us thought bad or mad, he called unfortunate, and tried to help.

He was survived by his widow and three sons, the eldest of whom is a professor in the Medical School of the University of California at Los Angeles.

DM Mitchell

[Irish Times, 15 April 1974; J. Irish med. Ass., 1974, 67, 9, 261]

(Volume VI, page 434)

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