Lives of the fellows

Robert Stuart Wells

b.18 October 1928 d.12 January 1998
MRCS LRCP(1951) MB BS Lond(1952) DCH(1956) MRCP Edin(1960) MRCP(1961) MD(1965) FRCP Edin(1969) FRCP(1972)

Robert Stuart Wells, known as ‘Charles’, was a consultant dermatologist at Guy’s and at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. He was born in Miri, Sarawak, but the family moved back to the UK just before the Second World War. He received his medical training at Guy’s Hospital Medical School and, after house appointments, did two years National Service in the RAMC in the Canal Zone.

Following demobilization from the Army, and after further house appointments, he passed his diploma in child health and subsequently the membership examinations of both the Edinburgh and London Royal Colleges of Physicians. After some time at the Population Genetics Research Unit in Oxford he obtained his MD.

While a lecturer at St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin, he was awarded a University of London fellowship to work with Victor McKusick at Johns Hopkins. Shortly before going he was appointed as a consultant dermatologist at Guy’s Hospital and, after he returned, he was made a consultant at St John’s Hospital. Some years later he was appointed to the staff of the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, where he was able to combine his chief clinical and research interests in dermatology and paediatrics.

His research interests were wide and he published more than one hundred papers, latterly confined to genetically determined disorders of the skin. At St John’s he ran the first clinic devoted to genetic counselling for skin disorders. With other authors he produced the original descriptions of a number of diseases, including X-linked ichthyosis and familial chronic mucocutaneous candidiasis. He also raised funds to create a skin research laboratory at Guy’s Hospital.

Although he did some teaching at the Post-graduate Institutes of Dermatology and Child Health, his chief interests were with the students at Guy’s Hospital. His emphasis was on making the students learn for themselves and he raised money to make the dermatology section of the medical museum at Guy’s the most modern in the country, with many teaching aids available. This ‘teaching laboratory’ continues to this day to attract many visitors and academics.

He was always anxious to improve the departments where he worked. At Great Ormond Street there was no full-time paediatric dermatologist when he started, but when he left there were two. For a year he was president of the dermatology section of the Royal Society of Medicine. He was president of the Dowling Club and of the St John’s Hospital Dermatological Society. He was also clinical director of St John’s and a trustee of the Dunhill Medical Trust. He believed in and adhered to the principle that no committee should last longer than an hour. An ideal trustee, he was well informed and supportive with a great sense of humour.

Charles thought of himself as benign and easy to work with, which was undoubtedly true. Moreover, he was unstintingly supportive of his colleagues in their aspirations and ambitions. His great contribution to dermatology is best reflected by the large number of his former students and registrars who now hold NHS consultant or academic positions in UK dermatology. He was not interested in medical politics, but worked selflessly to raise money for dermatological activities, particularly those that would benefit teaching or research. Despite this, Charles was essentially a modest man who asked little for himself. He will be remembered with great affection by two generations of Guy’s and latterly UMDS medical students and by many dermatologists. He was unmarried.

R J Hay

[Brit.med.J., 1998,316,1097; Guy’s Hospital Gazette, March 1998]

(Volume XI, page 612)

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