Lives of the fellows

Edward Brodie French

b.9 May 1912 d.22 June 2000
MB BChir Cantab(1937) FRCP Edin(1957) FRCP(1960)

Ted French was one of a group of consultant physicians who were brought to Edinburgh around 1948 by Stanley Davidson, at that time professor of medicine, to help with the development of the Western and Eastern General Hospitals as teaching institutions alongside the Royal Infirmary. Ted French epitomized the doctor as natural historian and his clinical acumen was recognised by all as outstanding.

He was educated at Tonbridge and gained a scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge, where he gained a first in both parts of the natural science tripos. He then went to Guy's Hospital for his clinical years. While there he was greatly influenced by Ryle and Hurst, which set him on the road to being the complete physician.

With every patient he saw, he demonstrated that the taking of the history of the patient's complaint was the key step. With patience, persuasion and encouragement, he would obtain a detailed history from their own words. No assumptions were made, and the detail was extraordinary. He would then carry out the most illuminating clinical examination that those who saw it had ever seen. All who worked with him received a clinical legacy that remained for life, and was, in turn, passed on.

He was a giant of a man, in physique and in cognitive powers. He became a legend in Edinburgh as the complete physician. He developed no speciality, remaining a generalist and his acumen applied to all clinical conditions. His opinion was sought throughout the city and beyond and instances of his diagnostic skill are known to all who worked in the city during his time.

He had the most magnetic personality. Kind and amiable at all times, he never showed panic and very rarely anger.

Paradoxically his teaching powers did not extend to formal lectures, which he hated. This was a foreign feature in Edinburgh, with its long tradition of formal didactic teaching. The Socratic method was used by French and he had a most disconcerting one word question to any statement from junior staff. It was 'why?' With characteristic irony he claimed he was the only person who fell asleep at a lecture while he was giving it.

He played rugby in first XV for his school, his college and for Guy's. He also sailed and it was fitting that he was buried at sea, near the Isles of Scilly, where he spent his retirement years. He had a large and close family, a striking wife, who was his closest friend, with four sons and eight grandsons, all of whom were drawn to his lovely home in Scilly.

It is rare that one can say without fear of contradiction 'We will not look upon his like again', but it is so with Ted French. Medicine has changed so much that such a towering, medical natural historian would not be fostered. But his legacy will live on at least for another generation.

Lord Kilpatrick

[Brit.med.J., 321,2000,640; Proc.R.Coll.Physicians.Edinb 2000;30:269]

(Volume XI, page 210)

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