Lives of the fellows

Malcolm Thompson

b.30 April 1919 d.16 August 1996
MBE(1994) MB BS Durh(1942) MD(1946) MRCP(1949) FRCP(1969)

Malcolm Thompson was a consultant rheumatologist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne. He was born in Bishop Auckland, a small but thriving market town in south west Durham, the only child of William and Rose Eleanor Thompson (née Brunskill). He was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne, a school with an excellent academic reputation and the starting point for many remarkable and distinguished careers. At the age of eighteen Malcolm began his medical studies at Durham University Medical School, qualifying in 1942.

During the Second World War newly qualified doctors continued their medical training in a branch of the Armed Services. Malcolms years in the RAMC from 1942 to 1947 were mainly spent on overseas duties and he was present at the Normandy D-Day landings. He attained the rank of captain and was able to continue his studies during these years of services.

In 1946 he received his MD degree, the subject of his thesis being Reiter's Syndrome. He returned to Newcastle in 1947 to continue his medical training, and held posts as house surgeon at the Royal Victoria Infirmary and RMO at Newcastle General Hospital. In 1949 he obtained the MRCP qualification and in 1950 his work took him further afield to Edinburgh. It was at this time that he showed a serious interest in rheumatic diseases and he was awarded a Nuffield research fellowship at the Northern General Hospital, Edinburgh. He spent five years in Edinburgh and then went to the USA where he worked at the Massachusetts General Hospital. His year in Boston was supported by an Empire Rheumatism Council travelling scholarship. On his return to England he established the rheumatological service at Newcastle upon Tyne - a service which until then had been the responsibility of general physicians. It seemed logical that Malcolm, who had a sound knowledge of general medicine with recent experience of rheumatic diseases, should be appointed as consultant physician in charge of these services. The unit began in a small way and was only for out-patient services.

Malcolm was a very persuasive and determined man and it was these qualities which enabled him to overcome many frustrations and obstructions in the course of his working life. He finally achieved his goal in 1978 when a department of rheumatology was established at the Freeman Hospital. This was again only an outpatient department initially, but in 1979, on his sixtieth birthday, a twenty six bed unit was allocated for the care of patients with severe and systemic manifestations of rheumatoid disease. While Malcolm was negotiating for the clinical care of patients he was also successful in securing and funding an academic department in the medical school of Newcastle upon Tyne. The clinical and academic departments have thrived and have since been extended.

Malcolm’s research work was mainly clinical, his interests being in the extra-articular features of rheumatoid arthritis and the association between psoriasis and rheumatoid diseases. He had many papers published on these aspects of the rheumatic diseases. His work remained clinically orientated and in the later years he was involved in the assessment of many new medications.

He was an excellent lecturer and presented papers at meetings all over the world. As a teacher he was involved with the medical students and physiotherapists in Newcastle and was also invited to examine at Newcastle and other centres.

Malcolm was interested in the welfare of those suffering from arthritis. In 1967 he founded the Newcastle upon Tyne city branch of Arthritis Care and was their president until he died. He arranged regular swimming sessions and helped with the organization of holidays in Europe. He was well supported on these arthritic holidays’ by his wife Laura, whom he married in 1947, and their family. He also supported the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council and was a keen and active member of the Heberden Society - now the British Society for Rheumatology.

He served as an alderman on Newcastle City Council and was chairman of the health committee. He was also a member of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Literary and Philosophical Society and of the Pen and Palette Club.

His only sporting activities were swimming, fishing and golf, but he was a lifelong supporter of Newcastle United Football Club. Sadly he told me that during the 1995 season he had not been able to enjoy the club’s matches because of his failing sight.

Although Malcolm had travelled widely throughout his professional life he continued to do so in his retirement. His last holiday, in July 1996, was a cruise on the Rhine. He always enjoyed a cruise and the social life of the ‘ships company’. He was an excellent raconteur.

He had given years of support to the local branch of the Conservative Party and it was for his services to politics and public service that he was honoured with his MBE in 1994. Malcolm retired from his NHS commitments in 1984 but continued for a further seven years in part time private practice. At the age of 72 he decided to retire from clinical work.

Mary Anderson

[Brit.med.J., 1997,314,380]

(Volume X, page 490)

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