Lives of the fellows

Robert Arthur (Sir) Young

b.6 November 1871 d.22 August 1959
CBE(1922) Kt(1947) BSc Lond(1891) MB Lond(1894) MD Lond(1895) LSA(1894) MRCP(1897) FRCP(1905)

Robert Arthur Young was born at Hillborough in Norfolk, the only child of William Young, an engineer, and Hannah Fairs. He spent his early years in Norfolk, and one of his recollections was finding the initials ‘H.N.’ on the brickwork of a building. These were always associated in his mind with Nelson who was said to have incised them in his early years. This recollection is interesting in view of Young’s later interest in antiquities. When he was quite young his parents moved to London and lived in Trevor Square, and Young went to Westminster City School. Before his schooling was over his father met with an accident, falling off a Beam engine and hurting his back, which led to his becoming permanently crippled. The family were in straitened circumstances, but Young managed to cover most of the expenses of his education with scholarships, sometimes doing errand-boy's work at the week-ends to eke out the family income.

From school he went to King’s College and then to the Middlesex Hospital with a scholarship in 1889, and after graduation spent some time in Vienna, working mainly in pathology. At the Middlesex he held various appointments including those of house physician, lecturer in physiology and pharmacology, curator of the museum and warden of the Residential College. He was appointed assistant physician in 1902, becoming physician in due course and senior physician from 1926 to 1936.

When he retired from the active staff to become consulting physician he received a great ovation at his last ward-round. The round was followed by a ceremony in the board room, where, after tea, he was presented with a silver salver inscribed with the names of his house physicians.

In the Second World War he returned to work in the Hospital and in due course had a second ‘last round’. At the Brompton Hospital he served as house physician and was elected to the honorary staff as assistant physician in 1905; he became full physician in 1915. In 1948, at the start of the National Health Service, he was appointed the first chairman of the Board of Governors of the Hospitals for Diseases of the Chest formed by the designation of the Brompton and London Chest Hospitals as a teaching hospital group. After his first term he was pressed to continue, but he felt he should give way to a younger man.

For part of his active career he was associated with the London Lying-in Hospital, St. Saviour’s Hospital, Acton General Hospital and St. Luke’s Hostel for the clergy. He was also physician to King Edward VII Sanatorium, Midhurst, with which he maintained an active association to the end of his life.

In December 1923 he travelled to Cairo, where he visited the Hospital and the Egyptian Medical School and attended its examinations, and was received by King Fouad I. He reported on this visit to the Committee of Management of the College in March 1924. From the time of his election to the Fellowship he took a great interest in College affairs; he was present at every presidential election between 1905 and 1959. He was a Censor in 1928 and 1929 and Senior Censor in 1932, Lumleian lecturer in 1929 and Harveian orator in 1939. He was also orator, president and Lettsomian lecturer of the Medical Society of London, and in 1959 was awarded the triennial gold medal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

It was only towards the end of his life, when he began to be troubled by minor cerebro-vascular occlusion, that Young lost the appearance of agelessness and the apparent power to outlive most of his contemporaries. For thirty years he had seemed to be unchanging; his hair and his neat moustache had become white rather early, but he had retained his clear skin and a surprising mental alertness that continued into his seventies.

Always the most approachable of men, he was a quiet but incisive teacher, and a charming host, who made friends among young people very easily and had a charming way of bringing the stranger into the conversation so that he felt at home. Outwardly he was not a deeply religious man, nor a regular churchgoer, but he used to say that he always ‘said his prayers’.

He was a great collector of clocks, etchings and curiosities, which he brought home from old markets like Petticoat Lane, sometimes with his wife’s disapproval. He wrote many papers on diseases of the lungs and contributed the chapter on this subject to Price’s Textbook of medicine. His first essay in medical literature was the translation of Arnold Brass’s Atlas der normalen Gewebelehre des Menschen (1897). Young’s private clinical notes are in the keeping of the College.

In 1912 he married Fanny Caroline Phoebe, daughter of Robert Muirhead Kennedy, of the Indian Civil Service. They had one son, who survived his father by less than two years.

Richard R Trail

[Brit. J. Tuberc., 1952, 46, 3-4; Brit.med.J., 1959, 2, 307-20 (p); J. Amer. med. Ass., 1959, 171, 1865; Lancet, 1959, 2, 298 (p), 357; NAPT Bull, 1951, 14, 654-62; Times, 24 Aug. 1959. Port., by Harry Riley, in the Savage Club.]

(Volume V, page 467)

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