Lives of the fellows

Winifred Ferguson Young

b.12 September 1909 d.28 May 1969
BA Cantab(1931) MRCS LRCP(1934) MB BChir(1935) DCH(1938) MA(1942) MD(1943) MRCP(1964) FRCP(1969)

Winifred F. Young was born in London of an Irish mother and Scottish father. Her father, Frank Young, was a soft goods merchant, chairman of Young and Rochester, Ltd. Her mother, Edith Mary Ferguson, was born in Limerick. The Fergusons were a well-to-do, staunchly Protestant family, in which the daughters were well-educated. Edith Mary Ferguson was sent to England to school, and throughout her life kept her strong belief in the importance of a good education and independence for daughters as well as for sons.

Winifred and her twin sister, Jessie, were the youngest of six children, three boys and three girls. There were four years between them and their youngest brother and their sister was 9 years older, so the twins were to some extent on their own and their relationship was a very close one. Their education began at Park School, South Norwood. Then, at the age of 11, they spent eight months with an aunt and her husband in Bray, near Dublin. Winifred acquired a strong affection for Ireland and a delight in the countryside which she never lost. Their next school was St. Felix, Southwold, and from there Winifred went up to Girton and then to King’s College Hospital, London. Her first resident appointment was that of house physician to the Diabetic and Biochemistry department, King’s College Hospital, where she worked under R.D. Lawrence and R.A. McCance. This appointment, gained at a time when few women were given resident posts at their teaching hospital, was to prove important in her subsequent career. It was the beginning of her interest in the biochemical aspects of medicine, and it laid the foundation for her collaboration and friendship with R.A. McCance. Subsequent resident appointments were house physician at the South London Hospital for Women and Children, 1936, house physician at the Infants’ Hospital, Vincent Square, 1936-37, her first introduction to paediatrics, and house physician at the Children’s Hospital, Birmingham, 1937-38. She then obtained a Medical Research Council Fellowship and went to Cambridge to work with R.A. McCance on problems of renal function in small infants. Leonard Parsons was interested in this work and some of the material used was from the Children’s Hospital, Birmingham. The collaboration proved a fruitful one and resulted in one of Winifred Young’s more important papers; it also earned her an MD. There followed a period as paediatrician at Brentwood Emergency Hospital before she returned to Birmingham as medical officer in charge of the new infants’ block, working directly under Sir Leonard Parsons, and later becoming medical registrar there. This appointment led on to a Nuffield Fellowship in child health with grants to visit paediatric departments in Denmark, Sweden, the USA and Great Britain. In the USA she worked first with Clement Smith in Boston, and then at the New York Babies’ Hospital, where she met Dorothy Andersen and became interested in cystic fibrosis. She formed a very close friendship with Dorothy Andersen and they spent many happy holidays together, sometimes in the US, sometimes in England or on the continent. Many other friendships, too, dated from her stay in the US, and she maintained close contact with the American paediatric scene.

In 1948 she was appointed Research Clinician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children, London, with grading of SHMO. As such she had no charge of beds and no out-patient clinics of her own, she was dependent on the good will of the consultant staff for her clinical material, and her position, being unusual and ill-defined, was a difficult one. However, with her outstanding ability and a characteristic combination of tact, patience and perseverance, she soon made herself indispensable, and in 1952, as the fruit of much plotting and planning by the consultant staff, she became that unique phenomenon in the National Health Service, a full time research clinician with consultant status. Her main interests in the following years were in the management of water and electrolyte balance in infants with gastro-enteritis and after major abdominal surgery, renal function in babies, and malabsorption states including cystic fibrosis. Her special clinic for children with cystic fibrosis drew patients from all over Southern England. Her follow-up and note taking were meticulous and she took a personal interest in every patient, entering sympathetically into every aspect of the problems posed for parents by this disease.

She was very interested in postgraduate teaching and from 1961-1967 she was Sub-Dean of the Institute of Child Health, London, and became a recognized teacher in London University. But apart from formal teaching, Winifred Young taught generations of house physicians and registrars how to care for patients, combining attention to details of treatment and accurate note-keeping with imaginative insight into the impact of the illness on the child and his family. A steady stream of postgraduates from abroad came to work with Winifred, and much of her time in later years was taken up with settling these visitors to a suitable piece of research work and helping them to write their papers, so that she sometimes complained that she had not sufficient time for her own work. As with her patients, so with the postgraduates, she took a personal interest in their private problems - accommodation in London, occupation for their wives, and frequently she had them and their families to stay in her lovely house in Epsom which she shared with her sisters.

In 1964 she was elected MRCP on her published work, and in 1969, just before her death, she was elected FRCP. Her outstanding contribution to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital rested in her broad vision and her ability to plan for the future. One of her projects was for a research block to house new laboratories and other facilities for advanced patient care. It was due to her personal effort and her ability to stimulate enthusiasm in others that the Hayward Foundation donated the money for the building. In committee she could be formidable, but her arguments were based on reason rather than emotion and she put them forward courteously. She was not often defeated, but when she was she accepted it philosophically.

She was dedicated and single-minded in her work and a perfectionist, but with her quick brain and her intellectual energy she found time to enjoy books, pictures, music, gardening, and above all people, in whom she was endlessly interested. Her friends spanned many professions and many countries, and the house in Epsom was not only the focal point for her close-knit family, where three generations were often assembled, but a centre of warm hospitality for friends and colleagues.

Mary J Wilmers

[Brit.med.J., 1969, 2, 573, 698; Lancet, 1969, 1, 1219; Surrey Comet, 31 May 1969]

(Volume VI, page 485)

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