Lives of the fellows

Richard Raymond Bomford

b.15 May 1907 d.30 January 1981
CBE(1964) BA Oxon(1928) BM BCh(1931) MRCP(1935) MD(1938) FRCP(1942) MA Oxon(1963)

Richard Bomford was born near Evesham. His family had long farmed in Worcestershire and his father and brothers were well known in agricultural circles. He was educated at Bromsgrove School and Wadham College, Oxford. He went to the London Hospital in 1928, winning prizes in medicine and obstetrics before qualifying in 1931. After two years of house appointments and one in the Institute of Pathology at the London, he spent a year as Sir Hailey Stewart research fellow before spending two years as medical first assistant. There followed a Rockefeller travelling fellowship spent at the Rockefeller Hospital for Medical Research in New York City before appointment as physician to the London Hospital in 1938 and, shortly afterwards, to Poplar Hospital. By that time he had made important contributions on refractory anaemias and was soon to publish a valuable paper on poisoning by methyl mercury compounds jointly with Donald Hunter and Dorothy Russell.

In 1940, Dick Bomford joined the Army as a medical specialist with the rank of major. He was soon promoted to lieutenant colonel and went to West Africa in charge of a medical division, returning to the United Kingdom in 1942, from whence he went to Normandy in 1944 and then to India. In 1945, he was promoted to brigadier and, as consultant physician, went with the 14th Army to Burma and Malaya. He was mentioned in despatches in 1946.

Returning to London after the war, Dick was for a period consultant physician to Mile End and St Andrews Hospital as well as to the London and Poplar. Though a countryman born and bred, he had become extremely fond of the East End in which he had lived since his arrival at the London as a clinical student. He knew it intimately and it was said that before the war there was no one living within walking distance of the London who did not know him. He played the organ in most of the churches in the East End and at All Hallows by the Tower, and his piano accordion, which went with him and the 14th Army into Burma, was greatly appreciated in the public houses of Whitechapel in the late 1930s. In 1958, Dick gave up his rooms in the West End and set up his consulting rooms in a house on the London estate in Whitechapel, which we shared for ten happy years.

Dick was punctilious in the fulfilment of the daily responsibilities of a busy and most caring physician and teacher. Along with a shy gentleness and genuine modesty, unhurried movements, a memorable smile and an infinite capacity to listen quietly to others, went an agile, questing mind, a rare sensibility and, almost in contrast, an ability to come quickly to decisions, and the will and courage to put them into effect. These qualities won him the trust of both patients and colleagues and endeared him to students and the young doctors who worked with him.

He remained always a generalist, taking an active interest in the development of psychosomatic medicine, calling on his considerable experience of tropical medicine, running diabetic clinics in several hospitals and serving as consultant gastroenterologist to the Army and consultant physician to Dr Barnardo’s Homes. For many years, he edited Clinical Methods.

Dick was a member of the General Nursing Council and, for twenty years, consultant adviser in medicine to the Ministry of Health. He was chairman of the Armed Services Consultants Approval Board (Medicine and Medical Specialties) from 1962 to 1970 and a member of the (Platt) working party on hospital staffing. In 1951, he succeeded Charles Hill (later Lord Hill of Luton) as the BBC’s radio doctor and regularly for six years broadcast sound information, good sense and much wisdom to an eager public.

Dick Bomford was secretary of the Medical Pilgrims, treasurer of the Royal College of Physicians from 1957 to 1970, and chairman of the medical council of the London Hospital from 1964 to 1970, having previously been its secretary for many years. He was well fitted to help organizations, founded long ago, to adapt to the very different and rapidly changing circumstances with which they were confronted in his time. He was not driven by any reforming or crusading zeal but sought only to do his best for institutions which meant much to him and in the importance of which he firmly believed. He had an abiding faith, not in himself, but in values and standards which, though he would never proclaim them to the world nor ever demand allegiance to them from others, were, no matter how much he might question them, those by which alone he himself could live.

Dick would reach decisions in his own mind as to the direction change should take, which of the old ways ought to be abandoned and which translated into terms more appropriate to the present. He would force them on no one, but offer them only as what seemed best to him, but because of his integrity, his concern, his values, his respect for the past and obvious dislike of change for the sake of change, his judgement was trusted. Thus, as treasurer of the College, he played an immensely important role in its removal from Pall Mall to Regent’s Park, responsible for much of the work involved and giving careful, but imaginative, thought to every detail.

He had a most important influence, too, on the building committee, his firm and enthusiastic support for Lasdun’s design doing much to overcome the doubts of older members. Dick loved the College and took endless trouble quietly to maintain and raise the standard of facilities available to fellows and especially the quality of College dinners.

At the London, to which also he was devoted, through thirty years of constantly changing and increasingly difficult circumstances, Dick Bomford stood steadfast in the midst of a hospital community which, like so many others, was confused and uncertain; contributing to deciding the direction of change but, with infinite patience and constant consideration for all, controlling its speed. His early retirement in 1970 was a great loss but he felt the need to engage, while he could, more completely in the care of the acutely ill and took an opportunity offered by the Shah of Iran to become physician to the Reza Shah Kabir Hospital in Tehran.

He equipped himself with a dormobile, drove there and, while there, drove around the whole country, getting to know the people, liking them and feeling it a privilege to care for them. Ironically and inexplicably, as he was about to return home on leave, he was attacked in his quarters by unknown assailants and badly beaten up. Despite this, he accepted an invitation to help a new medical school and returned to Iran only to find on arrival that the school authorities had changed and he was no longer wanted. He returned to England and, for some time, was an adviser to the British Postgraduate Medical Federation. He served on medical appeal tribunals, and was working for the Samaritans at the time of his sudden death at home in Roxwell, Essex.

Despite his many and varied commitments, Dick remained always a relaxed, unhurried, kind and happy man with time and abundant energy for the enjoyment of a full like. The pleasure he got from music, painting, gardening, cooking, wine, reading, travel, even his poultry farming, he shared with many friends, along with his love of beauty and nature. He had an unquenchable zest to live life to the full — without haste, without contention, with goodwill to all men and without selfishness of any kind. Few men can have had more friends in every walk of life, or been more thoughtful for them. He had a genius for helping, for encouraging, and for the exactly right timing of an act of kindness.

Sir John Ellis

[Brit.med.J., 1981, 282, 662; Lancet, 1981, 1, 397; Times, 1 Feb 1981; College Commentary, Jan 1981, 15, 39-41]

(Volume VII, page 52)

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