Lives of the fellows

Robert Alfred (Sir) Bolam

b.1871 d.28 April 1939
OBE(1919) MB BS Durh(1893) MD Hon LLD Glasg Hon MD RUI FRCP(1922)

Robert Bolam, the son of John Bolam, a Newcastle chemist, spent the greater part of his life in his native city. He was educated at Rutherford College and received his professional training in the Durham University Medical School at Newcastle, graduating with the degrees of M.B, B.S, in 1893. After working for a time in the physiological department of King’s College, London, under Halliburton, he returned to the Newcastle College, where he lectured in turn on physiology, pathology, physiological physics, chemistry and medical jurisprudence, eventually occupying the chair of this last subject. As assistant curator of the museum from 1900 to 1905, he made a notable reorganisation of its specimens. He held an early hospital appointment, meanwhile, as assistant physician and pathologist to the Royal Victoria Infimary. In 1907 he became physician to the skin department, an office which he filled till 1931, and from 1914 to 1937 he held the lectureship in dermatology in the College of Medicine. During the 1914-1918 War he was commanding officer of Wingrove Hospital, the venereal diseases section of the 1st Northern General Hospital, which was later amalgamated with his own skin department of the Royal Infirmary. He received the O.B.E. in 1919.

After the War, Bolam gave increasing attention to administration, not only locally but in a wider sphere. He became registrar of the Newcastle College of Medicine in 1927 and succeeded to the presidency eight years later, having figured prominently in the controversy that led to the merging of the College with Armstrong College to form the present King’s College. From 1936 to 1937 he was vice-chancellor of Durham University. For seven years, from 1920 to 1927, he performed the duties of chairman of the council of the B.M.A., which involved night journeys two or three times each week between Newcastle and London. As such, he was largely responsible for the erection of the Association’s new buildings in Tavistock Square, and to him fell the honour of welcoming King George V and Queen Mary on their visit in 1925. After 1920, too, Bolam sat in the General Medical Council, first as a direct representative and latterly, from 1928, as representative of his own University. He was knighted in 1928. Bolam was one who justified his high honours by qualities of ability and strength of purpose as an administrator, discernment and firmness as a chairman, and persuasive candour as a speaker. Cautiously unhurried in the formulation of plans, he was inflexible himself in their execution but slow to comprehend the doubts and hesitations of others. He died at Newcastle, survived by his wife, son and two daughters.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1939; B.M.J., 1939; Times, 1 May 1939]

(Volume IV, page 577)

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