Lives of the fellows

Roger Blakely Trimble

b.19 November 1946 d.31 December 1992
MB ChB Sheff(1969) MRCP(1972) FRCS Ophth Lond(1973) FCOphth(1989) FRCP(1991)

Roger Trimble was the product of a wartime marriage which ended in the divorce of his parents in 1948. His father, Henry John Trimble, was the eldest son of a farming family in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. He was a young airman stationed at the RAF base on Anglesey when he married Barbara Margaret Gill in 1942. Barbara was the daughter of an Irish master mariner, a former captain of the Holyhead-Dublin cross channel ships, who died in 1936 when Barbara was 15. Her mother was Welsh and became a very devoted grandmother when Roger was born. There was no contact with Roger’s father after the divorce and his subsequent re-marriage, so Roger’s upbringing was entirely by his mother. During his early years she worked as a chiropodist and Roger attended a primary school in Holyhead up to the age of 10. Barbara moved with Roger to Coalpit Heath, a village near Bristol, and took teacher training in Bristol at Redland College as a late entrant. Later, after writing short stories for magazines and radio, she developed a successful career as a writer of psychological thrillers under her maiden name, for which she received the Golden Dagger award.

When he was 11, Roger passed the entrance examination to Bristol Grammar School. There he was one among many bright boys and at first did not appear to shine unduly. He took part in sports and extra-curricular school activities without achieving any fame. His friends found him a very giving and generous individual and this willingness to give of himself to friends, and later to patients and staff, was an enduring characteristic. A school friend who was a class mate recalls that although he liked to give the impression that he was fairly casual about his work that was far from the truth. He had decided on a medical career around the age of 14 and pursued this with single-minded determination, gaining good A-level results and obtaining a place in the medical faculty of Sheffield University at the age of 17.

Subsequently, in his medical career, he showed an outstanding grasp of medical science. He was noted for his very astute mind and clarity of thought, and his ability to master topics at sight. He held house posts to the professor of general surgery at Sheffield Royal Infirmary and to A W D Leishman [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.334]. Following these pre-registration posts he was SHO, registrar and senior registrar in the eye department at Sheffield. It is significant that in these posts he was influenced by Alan Stanworth and Ian Strachan, both outstanding in their skills and knowledge of squint. From Sheffield he moved to King's College Hospital and Moorfields, London, as senior registrar, a post he held from 1973-76. In 1976, at the age of 29, he was appointed consultant ophthalmologist at St Paul’s Eye Hospital in Liverpool and clinical lecturer in ophthalmology at the University of Liverpool; one of the duties of this post was to be consultant ophthalmologist to Rainhill Hospital for psychiatric diseases and he carried out his duties there with the same care and enthusiasm as in his other work.

During this time he began writing A Textbook of clinical ophthalmology, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1988, in conjunction with Ronald Pitts-Crick. He had a difficult start at St Paul’s, where he was an additional member of staff which upset the careful mathematical share of junior staff and theatre time that existed prior to his arrival, but he worked cheerfully and firmly to achieve parity with his colleagues. He had a keen interest in the medical side of ophthalmology; this was despite considerable ability as an operator. The workload placed on him increased and if he can be criticized it is that he took on an excessive variety of work. Despite this he managed to achieve high standards all the time.

He was keen on teaching and his sense of humour enlivened his formal and informal talks; it encouraged students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, to take up ophthalmology or to regard it with respect. Over the years his interest in squint became the largest part of his professional life and he published many papers. In collaboration with Joyce Mein, he brought out a new edition of eye movement disorders: Diagnosis and management of ocular motility disorders, J Mein and R B Trimble, Oxford, Blackwells, 1991. At the time of contributing to this book he was also the main force in establishing the university department of orthoptics in Liverpool. His life was further complicated by the move of St Paul’s Eye Hospital; at this stage he elected to alter his own sessions to Walton Hospital, where he was able to pursue his interest in neuro-ophthalmology. This added to the volume of administration which nevertheless he undertook cheerfully.

It might seem that Roger had no faults but he was a compulsive smoker and he could usually be found with a cigarette, though never when working. His heavy workload also meant that he was invariably late for appointments - but enquiry found that the time had always been well spent. It is not surprising that he was in demand as a lecturer in other centres and as an examiner, both in the orthoptic diploma, diploma in ophthalmology and the ophthalmic fellowship.

When in Sheffield as a young doctor, Roger met Valerie - an orthoptist - and they were married in 1976. They had two children, a son Andrew and a daughter Alice, of whom he was very proud. They latterly settled in the picturesque village of Burton on the Wirral and what leisure time he had was spent with family and friends. A skiing holiday was a favourite relaxation. He also found time to support the local church, Riding for the Disabled, and an occasional game of snooker in the village hall. He had the advantage of needing little sleep; he would rise early to write and read before starting a full day of clinical work. With all his talents, Roger Trimble was a modest person and undoubtedly delighted to be elected a Fellow of the College. Sadly, at this time, it became apparent that he had carcinoma of the stomach and lower oesophagus. He tolerated extensive surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, with courage but he had no real doubt of the outcome. It seemed that for the last two or three months he survived on will power alone.

D M J Burns

[Brit.med.J., 1993,306,924]

(Volume IX, page 531)

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