Lives of the fellows

Thomas Pearse Williams

b.19 May 1893 d.22 February 1959
MB BS Lond(1916) MD Lond(1920) MRCS LRCP(1916) MRCP(1920) FRCP(1937)

Thomas Pearse Williams was born at Plymouth, where his father, Thomas Henry Williams, was a general practitioner. His mother, Fanny, was the daughter of William Browning, a tailor and outfitter in Plymouth.

He was educated at Plymouth College and at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School where, like his father, he was a Broderip scholar, and the record of his prizes shows him to have been a student above the average level. His clinical training was disturbed by the First World War, and was unorthodox in that he was an unqualified house surgeon at the Middlesex Hospital for six months and house physician at the same hospital for five months, of which he was qualified only for the last three. He then served with the R.A.M.C. (S.R.) for two and a half years, during which time he had charge of a general medical ward and an entire fever ward, and for about twelve months took charge of the pathology laboratory at the Deccan British War Hospital, Poona, as a captain specialist in pathology, a feat all the more remarkable because there is no record of any special training in pathology. On returning to civilian life he was medical registrar at St. Mary’s Hospital, London, for fifteen months, and then medical registrar and tuberculosis officer at the Middlesex Hospital for about three years.

Honorary staff appointments in those days were made at an early age; in 1921 he was appointed physician to out-patients at Paddington Green Children’s Hospital and in 1927 elected full physician. He had been the sole medical registrar at the Middlesex Hospital and it was there that he first had practical experience of paediatrics, which was to remain his main interest. When the Willesden General Hospital elected its honorary consultant staff in 1926 he was the first physician to be appointed, and it was fortunate that he was able to take charge of a large children’s ward as well as a smaller number of adult patients.

During the next thirty years he built up a most remarkable connection with the practitioners in his area. The conception of consultants with local interests and without teaching hospital associations was still novel, particularly in London and the larger cities. Pearse Williams lived and worked in Willesden, and his Harley Street practice was always of secondary interest to him. His first wife, Marjorie, the daughter of G. E. Startup, suffered a prolonged period of invalidism and their only child died at seven years of age. As a result of these two misfortunes his social life was much restricted, but he found solace and compensation in his deep love of his fellow creatures and of his hospitals.

In spite of a great fund of medical knowledge and unusual clinical acumen, he had little inclination towards medical publication, and was content to instruct and advise his colleagues and his juniors by the spoken word and shining example. Over a period of years at Paddington Green Children’s Hospital American graduates served for six months with him, and each in turn was surprised to learn from this accomplished clinician how much could be achieved without laboratory or other ancillary aids.

He was a voracious reader, not only in his own subject, but also in the field of biography and history. He was not a classicist and not, as we might understand it, a scientist; nor was he old-fashioned and unprogressive, but he always showed a nicely cynical approach to new-fangled ideas. His perfect honesty served equally well when he was learning from his juniors and when he was pontificating from what he knew to be firm foundations. As a committee member and as a chairman he was greatly admired for his unbiased approach to every problem and his uncompromising rejection of subterfuge.

Until his last protracted illness he retained his keen interest in the future of the medical profession as a whole and of his own hospitals in particular. If it occurred to him that he was one of the perfect bridges from the pure clinician to the scientifically trained specialist, from the honorary physician in a voluntary hospital in one generation to the sessionally paid consultant in the next, he would have smiled whimsically and perhaps joked about the increasing mechanisation of medicine, but he would certainly have spent a lot of time afterwards wondering if there might be some truth in the observation.

After the death of his first wife he married Joyce Wright, who was an old friend of the family, and in this union he found the peace and tranquillity which his life of devoted service had surely earned.

Pearse Williams was small in stature, but great in heart. He loved his fellow-men and his profession. He was entirely without conceit, but he brought to his work an authority and an assurance which were impressive. As one of the earlier consultants working within a restricted geographical area it fell to him to build up a new association with general practitioners who had been accustomed in the past to the opinions of the better known physicians from the great teaching hospitals.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1959, 1, 653-4; Lancet, 1959, 1, 527-8; Willesden Chronicle, 27 Feb. 1959 (p).]

(Volume V, page 452)

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