Lives of the fellows

Clifford Sidney White

b.17 August 1881 d.24 October 1957
MB BS Lond(1904) MD Lond(1906) MRCS LRCP(1904) MRCP(1907) FRCS(1909) FRCP(1924) FCOG(1929)

Clifford White, a leader in his specialty of obstetric surgery and one of the early select group who held the fellowship of all three Royal Colleges, was born the second son of Charles Stewart White, of Hampstead and his wife, Emma Annie, née Miller. He was educated at University College and at its Hospital. In house posts there up to that of obstetric registrar and tutor, and at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, he had the good fortune to work under three of the most distinguished teachers of the day in Herbert Spencer, Cuthbert Lockyer and Wilfred Trotter, so that he not only had a sound training in the principles of his chosen subject, but also an all-round introduction to surgery. Therein lay the secret of his later success.

From 1912 to 1923 he was on the staff of Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, leaving it for the first year of World War I to serve as a surgeon with the Belgian Army at La Panne; during the Second World War he once again did casualty surgery as surgeon to the Casualty Clearing Station at U.C.H. In 1925 he joined the staff of University College Hospital, one year before its obstetric unit was set up. Very soon he applied his knowledge of general surgery to that of the uterus and its appendages, and with a new, rapid technique was able to match to a remarkable degree the results of his present-day successors with their advantages in the advances in radiology, blood transfusion and antibiotics.

White’s tall, gaunt figure and rather austere expression gave an entirely wrong impression of his character to those who did not know him well. True, he could be a devastating critic of pomposity and of what he considered careless committee-work, but at heart he was kindly and considerate. Many a poor hospital patient benefited from his generosity, and every student who listened to his brilliant teaching knew, as every examination candidate did, that his object was to bring out the best in them, not to expose their ignorance. Others knew him as an editor of learned works and the author of new ideas on pelvic tuberculosis, abnormal uterine action, and malignant disease of the vulva.

He led a very busy life. In addition to the appointments of senior obstetric surgeon to University College Hospital and senior surgeon to the Samaritan Hospital, he was consulting surgeon to the Metropolitan Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital for Women, Plaistow, and the North Hertfordshire and South Bedfordshire Hospital. In 1938 he was elected a fellow of University College, London. He examined for the College, to which he was a Councillor (1940-42), for the other two Royal Colleges, and for the Universities of London, Cambridge, Durham, Cairo and Alexandria, and was a president of his section of the Royal Society of Medicine. Yet he found time for his hobbies of swimming, tennis, dancing and continental travel, and particularly enjoyed his house-parties, which were noted for their good food, excellent wine and happy conversation.

In 1911 he married Elaine, daughter of Francis Walford Mawe, of Chartertowers, Queensland, and had a son and a daughter.

Richard R Trail

[, 1957, 2, 1053-4; Lancet, 1957, 2, 899 (p); Times, 26 Oct. 1957.]

(Volume V, page 445)

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