Lives of the fellows

David Cressett Thursby-Pelham

b.17 September 1917 d.8 January 1992
MRCS LRCP(1942) DCH(1945) MRCP(1946) FRCP(1972)

David Thursby-Pelham was the son of Henry Cressett Thursby-Pelham, a clerk in Holy Orders, and his wife Rachel née Sturges, whose father was also a clerk in the Church. He was born in Oxford and educated at Haileybury College before qualifying at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, University of London. He was the first male resident at the Royal Free Hospital for Women and became the honorary visiting physician to the North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary, Stoke-on-Trent in April 1948.

Thursby-Pelham was instrumental in developing paediatric services in North Staffordshire and initially he was single-handed, serving a population of nearly half a million. His special clinical interest was in metabolic disorders but perhaps his greatest achievement was in recognizing mercury in teething powders as the cause of Pinkus’ disease. This was a prevalent cause of infant death in the late 1940s and early 1950s. During his professional lifetime there were great changes in child care and he was at the forefront in recognizing the importance of community services for child health, encouraging links with special schools and the local welfare clinics.

In 1951 he married Helen née Marshall, daughter of a medical practitioner and herself a doctor who was heavily involved in community medical services. They had one son.

David was a kind and compassionate man and many generations of aspiring paediatricians benefited from his careers advice. At times he was very absent minded, many stories abound concerning this, but at the same time he could be extremely shrewd and perspicacious. A lifelong lover of country pursuits, David always had a week off in early June for trout fishing on the River Dove and his other love, in later years, was riding and fox hunting. In the 1950s, wearing hunting pink, he used to undertake ward rounds on Saturday mornings at an outlying hospital for children with tuberculosis, before riding off to the hunt. One of the writer’s first memories was of David looking with great interest at an extremely small premature baby with a cleft lip,using his monocle to obtain a better view of this infant and the problem.

Sadly, a riding accident in 1972 caused him serious injury but despite his residual disability he maintained his clinical and outside interests both before and after his retirement in 1982. After retirement he continued his interest in child care and was regularly seen at postgraduate meetings at the North Staffordshire Medical Institute until a few months before his death. Six weeks before his death he was very seriously injured in a road accident and, sadly, did not leave hospital. His wife and his son Charles, who is a veterinary surgeon, survived him.

D S K Brookfield

[Brit.med.J., 1992,304,1438]

(Volume IX, page 517)

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