Lives of the fellows

Richard Haskell

b.19 June 1936 d.12 June 2000
BDS(1958) MB BS Lond(1963) FDS RCS(1966) MRCP(1969) FRCP(1993)

Richard Haskell, known to his friends and associates as 'Dick', was a consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Guy's and Greenwich Hospitals in London. He was born in Petersfield, the second son of Jack Herbert Haskell and Marjory Rose Haskell, and was educated at the King Edward 6 th Royal Grammar School in Guildford. He was a brilliant student. This was a consistent feature of his character that radiated forth throughout his life and, despite his modesty, his intellect was impossible to hide. He was a polymath, a man of wide interests, and a true intellectual - a rare quality in a surgeon.

His dental career started in 1956 as a student at King's College. He qualified in 1958. These years were notable for two things - he achieved honours in all subjects taken in the final BDS examination, and, far more importantly to him, he found Marion, a fellow dental student who later was to be his wife.

In 1959 he was a dental house surgeon at King's. With his enquiring mind Dick soon returned to medical school again at King's and was in the vanguard of oral surgeons who sought double qualification. He supported himself in dental practice at Abbeville Road, Clapham. He qualified in 1963 with honours in three subjects, as well as the gold medal in medicine.

After completing his house appointments he was appointed as a lecturer in the department of oral surgery under John Sowray. Dick was one of a breed of ambitious young men pushing back the boundaries of surgery and the Sowray/Haskell mid line osteotomy is a testament to his ingenuity and endeavour at an early stage in his surgical career.

In 1968 he was appointed as a senior registrar to the Eastman Dental Hospital. He collaborated with John Gayford to produce his first book - Clinical oral medicine [London, Staples Press, 1971]. In the same year he published a second book with Lester Kay, an Atlas of orofacial diseases [London, Wolfe Medical Publications, 1974]. If this was not enough, his enthusiasm - and Dick was definitely an enthusiast - took him to studying for and passing his membership of the College. He was later elected a Fellow. I believe this is a unique honour for an oral surgeon and one of which he was justly proud.

In 1971 he returned to King's as a consultant in oral surgery and dental casualty. He was contemplating a career in oral medicine but in 1974 he took up a consultant post at Guy's and Greenwich Hospitals. The Greenwich appointment was linked to the Brooke and hence Dick's involvement with neurosurgery. King's loss was Guy's gain.

Dick could now look to other aspects of his life. His daughter was 10 and I know from reminiscing with him that he took a keen interest in her progress for his reading shadowed hers throughout her academic career. It was with great pride that he watched her progress through school, then to Cambridge to read classics. She cemented this achievement with a PhD. His family was the centre of his existence around which his life rotated. His wife Marion is Armenian and Dick became a great advocate for Armenia, its people and culture. He invited its medical staff to work with him and made personal donations to the country in the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake.

Dick was a contributor not a passenger in life. He was involved in numerous national committees. He was a member of the Faculty of Dental Surgeons and became vice-dean. He was a board member of the British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and was its treasurer. He was offered the presidency but as was characteristic of him he gracefully declined this honour that he so richly deserved. Also as part of his clinical practice he developed an interest in medico-legal affairs which took him to the advisory board of Medical Protection Society. He was also a civilian consultant to the Queen Elizabeth II, Military Hospital, Woolwich.

This level of commitment would be enough for most individuals. But in the mid 1980s Dick pioneered another area of surgery - cranial access surgery, with the neurosurgeon Neil O'Dywer and later with Mike Sharr.

More impressive than all these achievements was his human side. I believe that it was this that made him unique - a man whose presence brightened any dull medical gathering. I have talked to his colleagues who have tried to sum up his qualities in varying ways. He was very supportive of junior staff, a good teacher, all the more so for his infectious interest in the subject, he was humorous and a good raconteur and most of all he never had a harsh word for anyone. He was always steady in a difficult situation and people came to rely on him.

Soon after Dick retired he was struck down with a minor stroke. This itself demonstrated the resilient qualities in his character. I visited him regularly and rather than complain about his disability we had long erudite discussion about the probable neural pathways, that had been damaged by his stroke. Simply casting off the disability he proceeded to write a book on wisdom teeth. His compassionate nature was shown recently when the dean of Guy's Dental School, Frank Ashley suffered a similar fate. His stroke was more profound and in the initial period he was left fighting for life, paralysed and unable to eat. Dick wrote him a letter describing the sequence of events he would undergo and how he would improve. Frank has made a good recovery but he told me that he had his wife Caroline read again and again Dick's letter which was the only beacon of hope during the dark days following his stroke.

The essence of his character was to be quiet, retiring and always modest. But despite this he was a man who stood out, he was principled, held his own counsel and did not follow the herd. He belonged to a class of patricians.

Mark McGurk

[Brit.med.J.,321,2000]

(Volume XI, page 255)

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