Lives of the fellows

Ronald Verdun Dent

b.29 March 1916 d.26 December 1998
MA MB BChir Cantab(1940) MRCS LRCP(1940) MRCP(1942) FRCP(1969)

Ronald, or ‘Ron’ as he was affectionately known by his medical colleagues, was a consultant physician in geriatric medicine at Crumpsall Hospital, Manchester. He was born at Cawston, Norfolk, into a farming family, and was educated at King Edward VI School, Norwich. His medical education was at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and Charing Cross Hospital, where he spent the first four years of his postgraduate training in medicine, reaching registrar grade after two years. He then served for two years as a surgeon lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

After leaving the Navy, he was a medical registrar at Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield, and was subsequently senior registrar at Rochford Hospital, Southend, where he developed his interest in the elderly and chronic sick under the tutelage of Sam Cieman.

In 1952 Ron became consultant physician (geriatrics) at Crumpsall (now North Manchester General) Hospital. I remember seeing him walk the corridors in his first year at Crumpsall Hospital when I was a house physician. He always carried his leather medical attaché case with him, the only consultant I can remember doing this. I worked two sessions with him as senior house officer from 1954 to 1955, and was later his first senior registrar. He convinced me conclusively that, in spite of its unglamorous image, geriatrics afforded ample scope for the practice of medicine, with the added challenges of complex medico-social settings, rehabilitation and long term care.

From the outset, Ron shared parity of esteem with the whole consultant body, and colleagues would drop in during his rounds to discuss clinical matters in an atmosphere of mutual interest and respect. His manner was modest, gentle and good-humoured, but he had a clear vision of his goals and a steely determination to achieve them.

Ron inherited 62 beds in the acute hospital, an out-patient clinic and 365 long stay beds in a nearby annexe. There was no rehabilitation in progress, no equipment and virtually no therapy staff. Working with his growing team of enthusiastically committed staff he built up a first class geriatric service. His rounds were enjoyed by patients and staff, all of whom were treated with the same respect and good humour, whatever their rank or profession. He led more by example than precept. This example led at least four of his medical staff to choose a career in medicine for the elderly. I count myself lucky to have been one of this group, and privileged to have worked with him and witnessed at first hand the triumph of character, kindness and good humour over the immense obstacles faced by the pioneers in geriatric medicine.

He served on the Manchester Regional Hospital Board from 1968 to 1973 and was a vigorous advocate for the first chair in geriatric medicine in England, founded in Manchester in 1970.

His compassion for those in distress drove him, with Bishop Greer of Manchester, to establish St Anne’s, the first hospice for cancer sufferers in Greater Manchester. He served as consultant, council member and chairman until he retired. During this period he founded and ran a discussion group at Crumpsall Hospital on medical ethics and religion in medicine. This was open to all comers and was very popular.

To do justice to his commitments to Crumpsall and St Anne’s he had to work long hours. He would see patients in St Anne’s on his way home from Crumpsall to Wilmslow, often arriving home late in the evening.

After retirement, he returned to Norfolk, where he loved tending to his large and beautiful garden and travelling widely. He also became involved in setting up and running the Priscilla Bacon Lodge, a hospice for cancer patients, and was medical director there for three years.

Ron was blessed with a close and loving family. He married his wife, Mary, in 1947 and they had three children, one of whom is a consultant physician.

James Leeming

[Brit.med.J., 1999,318,1423-4]

(Volume XI, page 149)

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