Lives of the fellows

Anthony Bowyer

b.11 October 1930 d.27 April 1996
BM BCh Oxon(1957) MRCP(1960) FRCP(1979)

Tony Bowyer was the consultant dermatologist at Torbay Hospital. He was born in the East End of London and throughout his life never lost sight of his origins. He was an only child who inherited from his mother a wide range of interests and an addiction to crossword puzzles. He was educated at East Ham Grammar School for Boys but, as was not unusual in those times, his education was interrupted on two occasions during the German bombardment of London. He was first sent to Bournemouth and then to Wales.

Despite these problems he won a place at Oxford University, a feat which was extremely rare from his sort of background in the 1940s. He went to Pembroke College in 1949 and played a full role in the junior common room. He formed a close relationship with his clinical tutor, Percy O’Brien, and, when Tony encountered problems with his biochemistry examination, O’Brien employed him in his laboratory during a summer vacation. Tony subsequently obtained a research fellowship at the Marine Biological Institute in Concarneau, France. On his return to Oxford Tony was involved in an accident in a chemistry laboratory and lost the vision in his right eye. This had no effect on his future career and indeed one suspected that he used his disability to his advantage. Whenever he was trying to make a point with strong conviction it was never clear whether the recipient of the argument was being observed with the good or the bad eye. This could be quite unsettling.

From Oxford Tony went on to Guy’s Hospital Medical School in 1954 and completed his studies there in 1957. He was an impressive student and had no difficulty in obtaining junior staff appointments immediately after qualification. He remained at Guy’s Hospital until 1969, apart from a year spent on rotation from Guy’s to Lewisham Hospital in London.

As a registrar he was greatly respected for his teaching ability and would argue his case quite formidably if he disagreed with the diagnosis made by his seniors. This attitude led to a divergence of support from the two consultant dermatologists then at Guy’s. During his time as a registrar at Guy’s he worked with Ian McColl on perianal skin conditions and together they published a number of papers.

In 1969 he was appointed as consultant dermatologist at Torbay Hospital. This was a new appointment which enabled him to build up the service according to his own ideas. Soon after his appointment it became clear Tony was going to be an important local political animal. He was soon placed on several committees where his ability to express his ideas with great lucidity led to his rapidly gaining the respect of both his colleagues and the management of the hospital. He retained an active interest in teaching and in 1972 became a clinical tutor. Under his direction the post rapidly expanded. He developed many new seminars and courses and showed his ability to attract speakers of note from far afield. One of his innovations was to set up a series of talks by members of the consultant staff to the non-medically qualified employees of the hospital.

In 1976 he became the South West regional representative on the council of the National Association of Clinical Tutors and in 1978 became honorary secretary and in 1981 chairman. He was an observer on many national educational committees. Parallel to his educational role he developed other management skills and in 1981 was appointed a member of the Torbay Health Authority. His views were always highly respected by the other members of these committees. He never needed to show any aggression and yet one knew that if he was for a project it was likely to succeed and if he were against it its chances were thin.

His clinical workload was enormous but it was one he thoroughly enjoyed. No matter what demands on his clinics his organizational skills were such that The Times crossword was nearly always completed before the first patient was seen. His opinion was greatly respected by his colleagues. He developed an almost mythical reputation, helped partly by the complete illegibility of his writing and partly by his policy of having his own medications prepared in the pharmacy under strict secrecy so that it was almost impossible to find out what had in fact made the patient better. He reasoned that charisma and authority in dermatology were important attributes and that it was not in anybody’s interest if he as the final opinion did not keep a few tricks up his sleeve.

Tony’s main weakness was an appetite for gambling and visits to learned societies in London were often followed by a visit to a casino. He also gambled with his life, smoking very heavily until four months before the diagnosis of his lung cancer in 1992. Despite his illness Tony did not lose his appetite for work and continued in his role as consultant dermatologist up to within a few weeks of his death. He had three children by his first marriage. He spent the last nine years of his life with his second wife, Nan.

I G McGill

[Brit.med.J.,1996,313,1003]

(Volume X, page 44)

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