Lives of the fellows

David Sinclair Wilson

b.24 January 1933 d.13 August 1990
BSc Lond(1954) MB BS(1957) MRCP(1963) DPhysMed(1965) FRCP(1979)

Both David’s parents were doctors, his father Sinclair Reid Wilson was a consultant chest physician in the West Riding of Yorkshire and his mother a general practitioner. He was educated at Loretto School and received his medical education at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, where coincidentally one of his sisters commenced her nursing training in the Nightingale School. Following qualification, he held house appointments at St Thomas’ and at Portsmouth and, after national service in the RAMC, he worked as a medical registrar at Colchester. On obtaining his membership of the College he returned to St Thomas’ as registrar and later chief assistant in the department of rheumatology.

In 1969 David was appointed to the new post of consultant physician in rheumatology and rehabilitation to the West Cumberland Health District where he covered an enormous geographical area; setting up outpatient clinics not only locally in Whitehaven and Workington but also as far away as Cockermouth, Carlisle, Penrith, Keswick and Millom. His burden was lightened to some extent in 1974 by the creation of an extra consultant post at Carlisle, but any potential free time was immediately filled by increased activities in the diminished geographical area.

In addition to his work in rheumatology, David Wilson created an excellent general rehabilitation unit together with a younger disabled unit in West Cumberland. He took a full part in the medical life of the district and participated in the acute on-call rota for the general medical unit; twice he served as chairman of the West Cumberland Hospital medical division; he was active in setting up the Whitehaven branch of the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council, of which he became president, and he gave considerable time to the broad concepts of good rehabilitation practice in the community as president of the Allerdale Association for the Disabled, and as a member of the West Cumberland Disablement Advisory Committee. He found time to travel far and wide to speak at charity functions held in aid of projects related to physical disability and to rehabilitation. However great his working commitments, he never appeared to be hurried and always found time to listen and personally counsel his patients.

David led a highly organized life into which he fitted an enormous number of activities quite separate from his medical career. Early in life he had acquired an enthusiasm for fell walking with his father and because of the geographical location of his consultant post he was able to continue both walking and climbing, often accompanied by his wife Josie, whom he married in 1963, and his son and daughter. His copies of Wainwright’s guides are neatly annotated with his own comments, often amusing and always to the point, together with details of when and with whom each walk was accomplished. He had been a keen hockey player at school and he continued to play at St Thomas’; from 1964-69 he served as vice-president of the hospital’s hockey club. He was fascinated by the purely statistical aspects of cricket although not a keen player. He was modestly proud of his Scottish descent and had become involved with Scottish dancing from an early age; he ran the Scottish Country Dance Society at St Thomas’ for some years and became a life member of the Royal Scottish Dance Society in 1956.

Music was also a very important part of David’s life. He played the piano and sang. At the age of 11 he took organ lessons at Halifax Parish Church. By the time he became a medical student the family had moved to Kingston-on-Thames where he regularly played the organ in the parish church, and during his national service with the RAMC in Germany he played every organ to which he could gain access - and that was a considerable number. During his time at West Cumberland he served for some years as assistant organist at Christ Church, Whitehaven, and one of the greatest frustrations he suffered following the onset of his illness in the summer of 1987 was his inability to manipulate a keyboard to his own high standards.

Despite a heavy load of work, he was meticulous in his attendance at meetings, both clinical and business, locally and nationally; the meetings of northern region rheumatologists and their families, part business and wholly enjoyable, which he arranged each summer in the Lake District were an annual highlight in all our lives. He regularly attended the meetings of his section at the Royal Society of Medicine and served on the section council. Whereas his peers would stay in London overnight after a late meeting, David would invariably catch the night sleeper so that not a moment was wasted from the ensuing day’s schedule. He also served on the council of the British Association for Rheumatology and Rehabilitation. His communications to the Regional Association of Physicians, and his publications, were largely concerned with the diagnosis and management of disability and he was a member of the Society for Research into Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. Only his close associates recognized the depth of his commitment; he spoke little at meetings and the working of his alert mind was often concealed behind an outward appearance of somnolence, an illusion which not uncommonly was shattered by an apposite and often pithy comment. His insistence on attention to detail and the maintenance of the high standards he set himself and others, in his work, sometimes gave the impression that he was none too happy about having to suffer fools.

Forced into premature retirement as a result of illness, David continued to take an active interest in everything around him and, as always, pushed himself to the limits of his physical endurance. Somewhat to the consternation of his family, he had been climbing in the West of Scotland not many weeks before his death. In the last year or so of his life he found it difficult to come to terms with the changes which were occurring in the NHS, and deep down he felt personally wounded by the run down of the excellent rehabilitation unit which he, aided by trusted colleagues in other disciplines, had set up over the years. It was perhaps merciful that he died only a short time before the unit was actually closed and dismantled.

D R L Newton

[Brit.med.J., 1990,301,1211]

(Volume IX, page 591)

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