Lives of the fellows

Matthew Sydney Thomson

b.6 January 1894 d.26 April 1969
MRCS LRCP(1918) MB BChir Cantab(1919) MA(1920) MD(1922) MRCP(1921) FRCP(1933) FRSE(1933)

Sydney Thomson was born at Earlsfield, Surrey, the only surviving child of Matthew and Emily Thomson (née Blakeley). He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School in Charterhouse Square, and in 1914 entered Downing College as Stewart Exhibitioner, where he later became a Foundation Scholar and President of various College Societies. For his clinical training he went to King’s College Hospital as a Burney Yeo Scholar. He was a brilliant student, and during the War acted as unqualified house surgeon to the 1st Eastern General Hospital. He qualified in 1918 and then served as MO to various batallions of the 46th. North Midlands Division.

He held his junior house appointments at King’s: HP to Arthur Whitfield and Sir Charlton Briscoe, HA to Hugh Playfair, and HS to Arthur Edmunds and to the ENT Dept. He was then medical registrar, and taking up dermatology under the influence of Whitfield, became clinical assistant and later first assistant to the Skin and VD Depts. At the same time he was RMO at the Drury Lane Dispensary, following in the footsteps of Willan. He was also MO to the Camberwell Infant Welfare Centre. In 1921 he was elected assistant physician to the Belgrave Hospital for Children, where in 1926 he started a Skin Department. From 1923 to 1939 he was general physician to the Drury Lane Dispensary and to the Ministry of Pensions; assistant physician to the Skin Dept, at King’s; full physician in 1933. He was also dermatologist to several LCC Hospitals and to four other institutions.

From 1939 to 1945, for the whole of the war, he concentrated on King’s, where he was resident casualty officer as well as working in the Skin Dept., an exhausting life maintained by unceasing work, which certainly took toll of his strength. After the war he was President of the Dermatology Section of the RSM, on committees of the MRC and RCP, President of the British Association of Dermatology, and secretary of that section of the International Conference of Medicine in London (RCP). He was an effective member of the Board of Governors of King’s, the Belgrave and the Royal Eye Hospitals. He was a member of various foreign dermatological societies, and Chairman of the Dermatology Subcommittee of the SE Metropolitan Region.

He published about sixty papers on dermatology, including the first on poikilodermia congenitale, which became known as Thomson’s Disease’.

He was generally liked, and affectionately known as ‘Tommy’, though some failed to notice all his virtues; he was conspicuously modest, a sensible, hard-working, contented and balanced man. He was careful to make, and keep friends, and he was an excellent chairman of committees. He had endearing peculiarities: ‘he would push up his glasses on to his forehead, stare a second at the skin lesions, and all would be clear to him’, and he had a habit of never touching a door-knob with his bare hand - he took a fold of his coat to cover it. He was a first class clinician, with a knowledge of the literature which he seldom paraded, and an enormous capacity for hard work. After a consultation he always, at once, wrote to the doctor with his own hand, and handed the letter to the patient for delivery.

He retired in 1958 to his family, his garden, and his very good stamp collection. He was also a good shot. He was devoted to his family: he had married in 1922 Dora Alice, the third daughter of Charles Edwin Wallace and his wife Elizabeth (née Ryves). They had two daughters.

CE Newman

[Brit.med.J., 1969, 2, 387; Lancet, 1969, 1, 989]

(Volume VI, page 436)

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