Lives of the fellows

Frederick Grimshaw Bolton

b.28 October 1923 d.16 March 1997
MB ChB Bristol( 1947) MRCP(1950) MD(1957) MRCPath( 1963) FRCP(1970) FRCPath(1971)

Fred Bolton was a consultant haematologist in Oxford. He was born in Bristol. His father, a pharmacist (also called Fred), and his mother, Ada Smith, both came from Lancashire. He attended school at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital and, in 1942, being rejected for military service because of poor eyesight, entered Bristol University Medical School.

After qualification and house appointments in Bristol and Bath he spent two years as resident clinical pathologist at Bristol Royal Infirmary. It was during this time that his interest focused on haematology. He became a member of the College and, to widen his experience, took a medical registrar post at Southmead Hospital before becoming registrar in pathology at the Infirmary. There was no consultant haematologist at the hospital and he took full responsibility for the service work.

During this time he enjoyed some sabbatical leave with R G Macfarlane [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.303] in Oxford and became fascinated by purpura due to drugs, notably quinine, quinidine and sulphamezathine. This later formed the subject of his MD thesis. The year 1954 was spent as Fulbright research fellow in Boston in William Dameshek’s laboratory; together they published two classical papers on serological mechanisms in quinidine purpura.

He was by now a senior registrar and had established the basis for an excellent haematological department in Bristol, as well as helping to supervise two junior colleagues with their theses. It seemed a natural progression, and one that was anticipated with pleasure in local medical circles, that he would obtain the newly established consultant post in 1957. Alas, this was not to be and a much more senior man from elsewhere was appointed. A further misfortune quickly followed when an appointments committee recommended him for another consultant job in the south west only for him to be told that the committee had been improperly constituted and the post would have to be re-advertised. At this time a consultant clinical pathologist vacancy occurred in Oxford. Macfarlane and A H T Robb-Smith did not hesitate; Fred Bolton was appointed.

He quickly established himself, firstly at the Churchill Hospital, and later at the new John Radcliffe Hospital. He built up a first class clinical service, developing an active role in the management and treatment of patients, unusual at that time for one whose base was the laboratory. Widely consulted and respected by other consultants he was repeatedly nominated by them to serve as their representative on various hospital committees. His tactful diplomacy was employed to great effect in the eighties when there was considerable disquiet and dissatisfaction among nursing and other hospital staff over pay and conditions of service. It was largely due to his skilful negotiations that a crisis was averted. He played a major role in planning the new hospital and at the time of his retirement was the medical representative on the body that was to become the Oxford Radcliffe Trust.

Yet Bolton’s greatest service to Oxford was the training of generations of young pathologists and medical laboratory scientists. He will be remembered by them for his considerable breadth of medical knowledge combined with patience, wisdom and kindness. Even deflation of the over-inflated junior was performed as a painless operation. At clinicopathological conferences he let others hold forth, and then came out with a really telling observation when summing up. His unprejudiced and kindly qualities, together with his shrewd assessment of individuals, were much in evidence when, as a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, he joined the examining panel for the membership of that body.

Outwardly he appeared as a quiet, serious and unduly modest man, unfailingly courteous to colleagues and patients alike. Those who knew and worked closely with him delighted in his sense of humour; despising red tape he would shake with laughter when recounting some tale of ludicrous lay maladministration in the higher echelons of the health service.

He travelled widely as his clinical and laboratory expertise were sought by old colleagues and pupils who had taken posts overseas. Several ‘holidays’ were spent assisting consultant colleagues in Newfoundland. Retiring a year early, he worked for short periods in Canada and Hong Kong but was not allowed respite from Oxford for long, being pressed into service by the local department of public health medicine to assist the medical staffing department in the preparation of‘job plans’ for consultants throughout Oxfordshire. In spite of a very active professional life Fred Bolton managed to find time to record books for blind students on tape. At his home in Kidlington he nurtured a fine garden. He died from complications of chemotherapy administered for hepatic metastatic carcinoma from a primary tumour in the colon. Throughout 48 years of married life, and through his last short but distressing illness, he received wonderful support from his wife, Joyce, herself a bacteriologist. They had two daughters and three sons.

M S Dunnill

[Brit.med.J., 1997,314,1626]

(Volume X, page 39)

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