Lives of the fellows

Robert Cavil Wofinden

b.25 January 1914 d.7 November 1975
MRCS LRCP(1937) MB BS Lond(1937) MD(1939) DPH(1939) Dip Pub Admin Lond(1945) MRCP(1967) FRCP(1972) FFCM(1972)

Robert Wofinden was born in the West Riding village of Greasborough, the son of Frederick Cavil Wofinden, civil engineer, and Margaret Hannah Dawson. From Rotherham Grammar School he won a county major scholarship to St. Mary’s Hospital — where his prizewinning notoriety was the despair of his peers — qualifying with honours as Alexander Fleming Prizewinner in 1937. After spells as house physician at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Teaching Unit and RMO in the Rotherham Municipal General Hospital, he became a member of Sir Wilson Jameson’s vintage last DPH class at the London School of Hygiene. Again he won honours and in the same year, 1939, proceeded to his MD. He added the Diploma of Public Administration to his armoury in 1945, and was elected MRCP in 1967 and FRCP in 1972, in which year he became a Founder Fellow of the Faculty of Community Medicine with whose origin he was closely associated.

Rotherham, where his father was later to become Mayor, reclaimed him during the war years, successively as Assistant and Deputy MOH: during this time he also gave war service as a VD consultant. In 1947 he was translated to Bradford as Deputy MOH and Deputy School Medical Officer, and acquired his first brief taste of teaching as lecturer in hygiene and public health at the Technical College, Bradford, before being lured to Bristol by Robert Parry as his deputy in the City and Lecturer in Preventive Medicine in the University, succeeding him as Medical Officer of Health and Professor of Public Health in 1956.

Wofinden established his reputation as writer and researcher whilst learning his trade as a public health specialist. In 1946 he won the Joseph Rogers prize of the Society of Apothecaries with his book, Health Services in England and in 1950 the Eugenic Society published his study on problem families in Bristol and made him an Honorary Fellow. His lasting claim to fame was his work in the development of health centres, and it was fitting that Health Centres and the General Medical Practitioner should be the subject of his Malcolm Morris Memorial Lecture in 1967. His clear sighted views on strategy and tactics for public health were succinctly summarized in his presidential address to the Society of Medical Officers of Health in 1969. The wide range of his interests was reflected in his Long Fox Memorial Lecture in 1967 on A comparative mortality study with special reference to Bristol and his Apothecaries Lecture in 1969, Towards an Occupational Health Service. Of the many distinctions he won, none gave him greater pleasure than the Smith award of the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene in 1973 for ‘the most noteworthy work in the discharge of his officer duties’. His voluntary work was recognized in the conferment of the OStJ in 1966. Nationally, Wofinden’s work included acting as external expert on Boards of Advisers, University of London, and membership of the Cohen Committee on Health Education, the Porritt Committee which gave impetus to NHS reorganization, and numerous working parties. He quickly acquired international status, devoting ‘holiday’ time as a WHO consultant on, for example, planning and evaluation of health services, world population and nutrition, and family planning. He was a member of the expert Advisory Panels on public health administration and on occupational health. He was particularly in demand in developing countries, in which his former postgraduate students seemed rapidly to win senior positions.

Wofinden had no superior in his generation as the compleat visionary community physician. He was a natural communicator and an inspiring teacher who revelled in the telling anecdote. Although latterly dogged by ill health, he remained at heart the keen sportsman who had excelled on the cricket fields of his native Yorkshire and in his captaincy of the soccer team at St. Mary’s.

In 1938 he married Eileen Frances Rachel Sinnamon, daughter of Albert William Edward Sinnamon, a customs officer; they had one son and two daughters.

AW Macara

[Brit.med.J., 1975, 4, 469; Lancet, 1975, 2, 933; Times, 10 Nov 1975]

(Volume VI, page 473)

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