Lives of the fellows

Leonard Roy West

b.20 May 1911 d.11 July 1970
MB BS Adelaide(1934) MRCP(1937) FRCP(1967)

Leonard West was the son of Gordon Roy West, BSc, MB, BS, MRACP, and grandson of W.A. West, Chief Inspector of schools for South Australia, and a greatgrandson of Mr Bumard who earned his living as a portrait painter there. Len West’s mother was Marie Scott, also from South Australia. His father, Gordon West, was first a general practitioner in Victoria, and then superintendent of the Royal Adelaide Hospital; he was an early Member of the Royal Australian College of Physicians, and later returned to general practice in Adelaide for many years before his retirement. Len West came from a medical family, his uncle being Esmond West, FRCS, an orthopaedic surgeon in Adelaide; his brother, R.F. West, FRCP, is a cardiologist in Adelaide; his cousin, Renfrey B. Potts, Professor of Physics there; and another cousin, Dr. J.B. West of the University of California, San Diego, USA, a respiratory physiologist.

Len married Eleanor Mary Flaherty, daughter of James John Flaherty, accountant, of Adelaide. She had two brothers in the medical profession, one Francis Flaherty, consultant dermatologist, and the other James Flaherty, a general practitioner in South Australia. They had two children, a boy and a girl.

Len West talked with relish of some aspects of life in Australia; swimming in the muddy ponds of South Australia, and of making sacking refrigerators to keep the meat and butter reasonably cool on holidays. Len went to St. Peter’s College, Adelaide and on to medical school there. He qualified in 1934 after doing his house jobs at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. In 1936 he came to Britain and studied for the MRCP at London hospitals, and then took posts at Brompton and Midhurst Sanatorium. It was from Midhurst in 1941 that he joined the RAMC, and during his military service he was in Gibraltar and joined the 6th Airborne Division which landed in France on "D" Day. At the crossing of the Rhine he was mentioned in despatches. Len enjoyed the company of men and life in the army. His stories of being locked out of camp and therefore blowing a hole through the perimeter wire with explosive to get back in, and of life during the invasion of Normandy showed the cool courage of the man, yet always had their amusing side.

After demobilisation he went back to Midhurst with his wife and child, who went to Australia during the war. While there he built the first tomograph unit in that hospital. One finds it difficult to picture him looking after private patients. He had outspoken socialistic ideas.

In 1947 he was appointed chest physician to Sully Hospital, near Penarth, Glamorgan, and devoted the rest of his life to his work there. In 1948 he set up a Catheter Laboratory, "begging and borrowing" an old screening set and the neighbour’s cat to do the first catheter on. Apart from being the only physician in a hospital with 300 patients, he also developed the Respiratory Function Laboratory, making much of the apparatus himself. Len thoroughly enjoyed working with his hands. Later he developed the Animal Research Laboratory which has been named in his memory at Sully Hospital. As well as all this, he continued to look after patients, and teach both undergraduates and postgraduates, and present papers to various learned societies of which he was a member, including the Thoracic Society and the Cardiac Society. He instructed doctors from all parts of the world, and an Irish doctor who had been his house physician, later writing from America, enquired about the consultant staff and in conclusion said, "And now for the dessert, how is Len West?".

HM Foreman

[Brit.med.J., 1970, 3, 410]

(Volume VI, page 454)

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