Lives of the fellows

Henry Renwick Vickers

b.10 March 1911 d.20 October 1993
VRD MSc MB CHB Sheff(1934) MRCP(1937) FRCP(1950) MA Oxon(1958) MD Sheff(1958)

Renwick Vickers was born in Sheffield, the son of John Henry Vickers and his wife Janet Mary née Calder. He was educated at King Edward VII School, Sheffield, and moved on to the University and medical school, qualifying in 1934. He came under the eye of Rupert Hallam, physician/dermatologist at the Royal Infirmary [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.169] and was soon appointed full-time clinical assistant, a novel grade at that time. Having obtained his membership of the College he was appointed a full-time consultant in April 1939, a member of the honorary staff. Though travel to an European centre was out of the question it was arranged that he should spend some weeks in London visiting the more reputable clinics. But it was just before the onset of the second world war and his RNVR commitment directed him to Haslar Hospital, for he had joined the service as a student in 1931. He was the first dermatologist officially to be appointed by the Royal Navy and gained early fame by diagnosing a senior Naval officer as having leprosy. Considerable consternation was provoked for it was not an item to be found in the Naval medical index.

When Hallam retired in 1944, Vickers was allowed to leave the Navy in order to take over in Sheffield - it seems that Sheffield’s need was greater than that of the Navy. He then set about developing the skin department and was soon to be joined by Ian Sneddon [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.478] as his junior. These two made an admirable team and the facilities, together with the teaching of students and the training of junior staff, reflected the quality, industry and interest of the two in charge. Vickers practice became extremely heavy and he developed an expertise in industrial skin problems. He was made medical adviser to the National Coal Board and the thesis for his doctorate was entitled ‘Dermatitis in an industrial population’.

It was therefore surprising that Vickers considered a move when his professional life in Sheffield was so successful and satisfying. But his old friend, Alice Carleton, doyen of anatomy at Oxford where she also ran the dermatology service, was about to retire. She was her typical persuasive self and, although it was considered unusual for a consultant to move in mid-stream, such a change ‘while there was still fire in his belly’ proved a most attractive proposition. Moreover, the ages of Sneddon and himself were not so disparate, thus his disappearance from Sheffield would give his younger colleague more scope. There is no doubt that this decision was right. In 1957 the whole family moved and settled in Oxford life, the musical side being a bonus for Renwick was a keen participant of choral singing and latterly became chairman of the Bach Choir in Oxford. He developed the Oxford department, stressing the interface of dermatology with general medicine. This was his lifetime thesis and the core of his Watson-Smith lecture ‘The place of dermatology in a general hospital’ which he gave at the College in January 1959; he particularly points out the inadequate staffing of the skin departments in this country and the woefully inadequate number of trained specialists at that time. He sustained his interest in leprosy and his department was able to work closely with the MRC unit that had been established at Oxford.

After holding a variety of appointments on the Oxford board of governors, he became chairman of the medical staff council and later chairman of the medicine board at the University. With his personal charm, articulate speech, common sense and industry, Renwick was a ‘natural’ for high command. To be presented by the students, in 1973, with a ‘golden stethoscope’ caused him great joy, though it was hardly surprising.

He was president of the British Association of Dermatology in 1966 and later took on the role of postgraduate dean, then an innovation, for the Association. He was appointed consultant adviser to the then DHSS, 1962-77, and was awarded the Archibald Gray gold medal - the Association’s highest accolade for outstanding service to the cause. After retirement from Oxford he seized the chance to fill a dermatological vacuum at the Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith, this proved a joyous time for he joined in the Grand Rounds with great gusto, attending regularly and frequently contributing until his final retirement in 1983.

Penelope Peck, the QARNS nursing sister whom he married in 1941, took over the Oxford Guides while bringing up the family - they had a son and four daughters. She was to become his strength for latterly they had moved to Suffolk to be near one of their daughters. The girls had been educated at the Oxford High School for Girls and Renwick, with his keen interest in all aspects of education, became chairman of the board of governors. His son - after Winchester, Oxford and St Thomas’ - is an orthopaedic surgeon. They were all brought up in the manner of their parents; holidays at Hayling Island provided sailing and other diversions including, Renwick proudly boasted, real tennis. He was indeed a loved and respected figure who had made an impact on two universities, as well as on the wider medical world.

S C Gold

[Brit.med.J., 1993,307,1491; The Times, 27 Oct 1993]

(Volume IX, page 544)

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