Lives of the fellows

Ronald Ernest (Sir) Tunbridge

b.2 June 1906 d.12 January 1984
Kt(1967) OBE(1944) BSc Leeds(1927) MSc(1929) MB ChB(1931) MD(1933) MRCP(1933) FRCP(1944) FFOM(1983) FCP Ceylon(1966) Hon DSc Hull(1974) Leeds(1975) Warwick(1979) Hon F Leeds Polytechnic(1983) JP(1958)

The son of the Rev W J Tunbridge, a Methodist minister, and his wife Norah Young, Ronald Tunbridge became a consultant physician and professor of medicine whose life was characterized by a conscientious devotion to the care of the elderly and the disabled, combined with a dedication to the training of doctors to acquire greater technical skills without loss of compassion.

Ronald went to school at Scarborough College, Ashby-de-la-Zouch Grammar School, and Kingswood School, Bath. He developed into a tall, strongly built man, who played cricket and hockey and captained the medicals’ rugby team at Leeds University. The author’s first memory of him is as a vigorous player of male and mixed hockey in days or early military service. Ronald obtained first class honours, BSc and MSc at Leeds, in physiology; winning a university research scholarship, British Association and BMA studentships. Prophetically, in addition to sport and study, he also made time to be secretary and president of the student medical society, chairman of the Rag committee, joint foundation editor of the medical school magazine, founder and leader of a local boys’ club and an active member of the Yorkshire Association of Boys’ Clubs.

After graduating MB ChB with honours, and following house appointments at the General Infirmary at Leeds, Ronald held an important formative post as clinical assistant to Francis Fraser at St Bart’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.l41]; during this time he acquired his MD and MRCP before returning to Leeds as RMO (1933-35) and then becoming, successively, medical tutor (1935-37), reader in medicine (1937-39) and consultant physician to the Public Dispensary and Hospital, St James’s Hospital, Leeds, and Staincliffe and Dewsbury Hospitals in the West Riding.

The RAMC claimed him as a medical specialist early in 1941 and by the end of that year he was officer in charge of the medical division, Malta, command adviser in medicine and psychiatry, and physician to the Governor. He was appointed OBE in January 1944.

In the invasion of Europe he was for a time in charge of the infectious diseases unit in Normandy, then served in Belgium and Germany, being twice mentioned in despatches, and finally became consultant physician to the British Army of the Rhine with the rank of brigadier.

Ronald returned to Leeds in 1946 and was appointed to the newly established full time chair of medicine at the University of Leeds and consultant physician to the United Leeds Hospitals; posts he filled with distinction until his retirement in 1971. At the same time, he willingly accepted an astonishing range of responsibilities, locally, nationally and internationally. Most doctors dislike, or affect to dislike, all committee work; Ronald never lost faith in the combined wisdom, good sense and practicality of most of his colleagues, and as chairman of many committees often achieved more than might have been expected from the sum total of the individual talents of the members.

He was a member of the Regional Hospital Board 1948-52, and of the board of governors of the United Leeds Hospitals, 1952-71; chairman of the medical advisory committee to the Ministry of Health, vice-chairman of the Central Health Services Council, adviser in medicine to the Platt survey in the Newcastle and Bristol Regions, chairman of the Ministry’s standing committees on cancer and immunization, and chairman or deputy chairman of departmental committees on accident and emergency services, general practice, tissue transplantation, medical records, medical care of hospital staff, rehabilitation, remedial services and psychogeriatric provision of care. He was also joint chairman, with Lord Knutsford, of a national working party on liaison between health, social, and employment services for disabled people.

For the College, Ronald was a member of Council, an examiner, and chairman of a committee on social and preventive medicine. He was president of the Association of Physicians, and he became a Fellow of the British Medical Association after long and valued service, including the chairmanship of committees on rehabilitation and on the future policy of the General Medical Council, the first chairmanship of the board of science, membership of Council, and from 1974-75 the presidency.

His almost inexhaustible list of other. responsibilities can only be indicated here by some principal examples. In diabetes, he became vice-president of the British Diabetic Association and later honorary president, chairman of its research committee, Banting Memorial lecturer, and he was joint founder of holiday camps for diabetic children. In geriatrics, he became president of the British Gerontological Society, chairman and organizer of the second international congress of gerontology, vice-president of Age Concern, helped the writer to organize three international symposia on biological aspects of ageing, and won the Bobst award for international services to gerontology. In rheumatology and rehabilitation, he was a strongly supportive member of the British Arthritis and Rheumatism Council and chairman of its medical, education, and research committees, orator and president of the Heberden Society, and president of the British Spas Federation. He received a gold medal from the Montreal Institute for Rehabilitation and the Osier award of the Canadian Medical Association.

The Tunbridge Building at Cookridge Hospital, Leeds, houses the new cancer research laboratories and was named after Ronald Tunbridge as a tribute to his work for many years for the Yorkshire Cancer Research Campaign.

Ronald’s passion for improvement in medical education and his concern for young people in training led to his being in great demand as examiner and educational adviser in many places in the UK, and in Ceylon and Malta. He went on special missions to Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Cameroons, as consultant in medical education to WHO. He was president of the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS), chairman of the training committee of King Edward VII Hospital Fund, and for the Chaplaincy Board he was responsible for report on the work of hospital chaplains. He was a governor of several schools, president of the Yorkshire Science Masters’ Association, served as a magistrate for the city of Leeds, and also even as first chairman of the BBC Leeds radio station.

The mind boggles at his tireless, dutiful, manifold and effective participation and leadership in these and many other activities. It might well be supposed that his patients, his students, and his family could hope to see him only rarely and briefly, but Ronald’s patients demonstrated on his death that they had never been in doubt of his continuing concern for each and every one of them, and his students and housemen knew that he was as anxious for them to become competent, caring doctors as they were themselves, and that they could approach him freely in his office or in his home. In his home life and his friendships he was singularly happy. He married Dorothy Gregg in 1935, and for their many friends in England and abroad it was impossible to think of the one without the other; their love and companionship gave joy to all who knew them. To their delight, both their sons, Michael and David, achieved distinction in medicine and were elected Fellows of the College.

In his generation, Ronald was a tower of strength to British medicine.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme

[Brit.med.J., 1984,288,333; Lancet, 1984,1,294; Times, 19 Jan 1984; Daily Telegraph, 17 Jan 1984]

(Volume VIII, page 513)

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