Lives of the fellows

Eirian Williams

b.7 May 1925 d.31 March 1991
MRCS LRCP(1947) MB BS Lond(1947) MRCP(1950) MD(1952) FRCP(1970)

Born at Pont Henri, the son of Griff Williams, a school teacher, and his wife Elizabeth née Johns, Eirian Williams was educated at Gwendraeth Grammar School, Carmarthenshire, and entered the University of London to study medicine at The London Hospital. He was one of six medical students selected by the Red Cross to go to Belsen concentration camp in 1945. After qualifying he served in the RAF from 1948-1950.

As registrar and senior registrar at The London he worked with William Evans [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.146] and Donald Hunter [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.288] who greatly influenced his future interest in cardiology and occupational medicine. His arrival as a consultant physician at Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest, marked the dawn of a new era for medicine in Pembrokeshire. As a single-handed physician, with one registrar, he worked tirelessly to provide a first rate service for a population of 100,000, which often doubled and sometimes trebled in the busy holiday seasons. Working under conditions which would have daunted most of his contemporaries, he systematically recorded the wealth of clinical material and set higher professional standards for himself and his colleagues.

Despite his onerous duties he managed to retain research interests, particularly in brucellosis which was endemic in Pembrokeshire at that time. Performing and looking at liver biopsies in many hundreds of patients, he accumulated unrivalled experience and knowledge of brucellosis which resulted in its virtual elimination in the United Kingdom. He wrote many papers on the subject, gave many lectures and travelled extensively to further his research and pass on his experience, including travel sponsored by WHO to Japan and Peru and the Medicine-Gilliland travelling fellowship of the RCP to South America in 1982. The excellence of his original research was then more widely appreciated; in 1984 he gave the Donald Hunter memorial lecture at the College and he was also invited to write the section on brucellosis for the Oxford textbook of medicine.

Bill, as he was affectionately known to friends and colleagues, never took ‘No’ for an answer and was very much at the forefront of a campaign for a new hospital that was desperately needed in Pembrokeshire. He had many confrontations with administrators and government ministers and when the going was tough was able to motivate his colleagues and the local population to press their just cause. The new hospital was finally completed in 1979 and expanded rapidly on the firm base that he had helped to establish, culminating in the award by The Sunday Times in 1991 for the best district general hospital in the UK.

His patients held him in a curious mixture of awe, fear and - above all - respect. Many felt it a great privilege to participate in his research, willing to undergo repeated liver biopsies to further medical knowledge. The medical library at Withybush Hospital now bears his name as a tribute to his unswerving dedication to the promotion of education and high professional standards. He founded the Pembrokeshire Medical Society and became the first postgraduate organizer at Withybush Hospital where he attracted and hosted many eminent lectures. His sense of humour, pungent wit and love of human nature made him a popular raconteur, especially at the meetings of the Association of Physicians in Wales at Port Meirion. His leisure interests included photography, gardening and wet fly fishing.

He married Elizabeth née Duffus in 1949. She was a devoted source of encouragement and support throughout their happy marriage. They had three children: Andrew, a consultant physician; Michael, a consultant surgeon, and Susan, a physiotherapist. Bill’s terminal illness involved a long and painful battle with prostatic cancer, borne with great courage and philosophical candour. Having given so much to others it was tragic that he was unable to enjoy the benefits of retirement.

D J Jones

(Volume IX, page 588)

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