Lives of the fellows

Peter Forbes Borrie

b.26 March 1918 d.6 April 1984
MB BChir Cantab(1942) MRCP(1948) MA(1950) MD(1951) FRCP(1960)

Peter was born in Basra, Iraq, where his father, who was a New Zealander, was a surgeon and founder of the British Hospital. It was, therefore, at an early stage in Peter’s life that he learnt to appreciate that the world is composed of different races and different types of people. His education at Rugby School and Clare College, Cambridge, added to his ability to rub shoulders with people of different intellectual, racial and educational backgrounds. He completed his undergraduate training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, in 1942, and for the rest of his life he took an interest in the hospital and medical school, which were very close to his heart in affection. Following a house physician appointment to George Graham [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI,p.205] at Bart’s, he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps as regimental medical officer to the Royal Engineers, in both England and north western Europe, and in 1947 he was appointed as a dermatologist and worked in Egypt and Greece. He obtained his membership of the College in 1948 and 12 years later was elected to the Fellowship.

After demobilization he took up an appointment as senior registrar in dermatology at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, and in 1949 returned to work at his favourite London Hospital, St Bartholomew’s, first as senior registrar, then as chief assistant, and later as assistant physician and consultant physician in charge of the dermatology department, and he remained there until his retirement in 1978. Like many physicians of his era, he did a round of other smaller hospitals within the home counties and was, at times, dermatologist to St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin, St Andrew’s Hospital Dollis Hill, Barnet General Hospital, and Moorfields Eye Hospital.

At a time when lupus erythematosus was not a very well known disease, Peter worked on the clinical aspects and patterns of this disease and his Cambridge MD was awarded for a thesis on it in 1951. For the rest of his days as a clinician he continued to take a lively interest in the cutaneous vasculitis aspect of lupus, and of other related diseases, and also on the different clinical manifestations of xanthomatosis.

Although he was not a prolific writer of original papers a number of his reports are repeatedly quoted today, and they reflect the accuracy and importance of his original observations and contributions to medical literature. As editor of Roxburgh's Textbook of Common Diseases of the Skin, from 1959, his name was well known to dermatologists throughout the world, and it is interesting that this textbook remains in popular demand despite the plethora of texts from almost every university hospital in the United Kingdom.

Peter’s main dermatological interest was, however, directed to the clinical care of patients. He enjoyed making people better, and seeing that the patient left his presence with satisfaction and a hopeful outlook. He was always willing to learn about new drugs and techniques and his good relationship with his registrars, and other junior staff, enabled them to pass on to him their concepts of modern trends in therapy and understanding of disease, and he looked upon this communication as a major source of his continuing education. He read his journals with enthusiasm and felt time spent attending prolonged medical meetings was time wasted, particularly if the meeting proceedings were subsequently published.

Medical students seemed to have a particular rapport with Peter. He enjoyed teaching them, and made a great effort to learn their names at a time when there were so many students coming through the dermatology department for tuition that the weaker brethren considered both the tuition and getting to know individual students to be an impossibilty. He stimulated a significant interest in the dermatological part of the curriculum and a considerable number of Bart’s Hospital graduates who worked in the skin department as junior medical staff later became consultant dermatologists in teaching hospitals in London, and in other parts of the country. Their interest was, to a great extent, stimulated by Peter’s enthusiasm for his subject.

As he became more senior his colleagues looked upon him as one of their elder statesmen. He was elected to the board of governors of Bart's, was chairman of the medical council of the Hospital and president of the section of dermatology of the Royal Society of Medicine. He was a most successful chairman with a directness of approach to subjects, and to his colleagues, which crystallized his feelings about situations in a refreshing way. His accuracy and objectivity were respected by his friends and associates.

Peter was most relaxed and happy in his own home with Helen, a soldier’s daughter and his devoted wife, and his four children of whom he was very proud. He loved to play golf, to garden, and to entertain friends, and the hospitality of his home was shared by many whatever their social status in life.

He had that special ability of being able to disagree violently and forcefully with his colleagues and still remain close friends with them. He was outspoken about those aspects of life which concerned him and, some years ago, he felt compelled to voice his reluctance to appoint a South African anaesthetist to a consultant post when there were many United Kingdom trained individuals clamouring to obtain the prestigious appointments on a London teaching hospital. This type of racial bias, so unpopular in today’s world, was stimulated not by a sense of superiority of one group over another but by the belief that such appointments should not be given to foreign graduates when the home market was over-subscribed with well trained candidates.

Ill health forced Peter to retire early but he was able to enjoy six years in Cornwall following his hobbies, including golf and gardening. Having walked out of St Bartholomew’s Hospital after his retirement party he never again came to London, nor to the hospital which he loved so dearly; it was as if he felt that his own era at that institution had passed. A service of thanksgiving for the life and work of this whole man was held in the parish church of St Bartholomew the Less, within the walls of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, on 6 June 1984. It was attended by a large number of friends and colleagues from every aspect of his former life who came to pay a tribute to this independent, loyal and hardworking man, to whom accuracy and an objective approach to problems was of supreme importance. He was a complete and loveable person, and his family looked back on a life well fulfilled.

Dowling D Munro

[Lancet, 1984,2,415; The Times, 16 Apr, 26 May 1984]

(Volume VIII, page 36)

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