Lives of the fellows

Pamela Margaret Le Quesne

b.6 August 1931 d.2 August 1999
BA Oxon(1952) BSc(1954) MA(1954) BM BCh(1956) DObst RCOG(1957) MRCP(1959) DM(1962) FRCP(1973)

Pamela Le Quesne, or Paddy Fullerton as she was known when she began to establish her international reputation, was something of an icon for women wishing to enter the specialty of neurology in the 1960s. As one of her distinguished younger contemporaries recalls she had a formidable reputation as the first woman since the Second World War to have been appointed to the House at the National Hospital, Queen Square, and even before this to have attracted wide attention by her description of the neuritis which complicated the use of thalidomide. But those who met her were at once at ease because of her warmth, kindness, infectious enthusiasm and her sense of fun.

Paddy won a scholarship to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, in 1949 and graduated BA in 1952 and BSc in 1954. She won a scholarship to the Middlesex Hospital in 1953 and graduated in medicine in 1956. Membership of the College followed in 1959. Her interest in neurology was stimulated at the Middlesex when she came under the influence of Michael Kremer [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.265] and Roger Gilliat [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.195]. It was the latter who encouraged her to develop her interests in diseases of peripheral nerves, and in particular in the mechanism of symptoms in the carpal tunnel syndrome (the basis of her DM thesis for which she was awarded the Queen Square Prize in 1964) and toxic neuropathies.

Her training provided her with skills not only in clinical neurology, but in electrophysiology and pathology. The way in which she used these approaches to complement each other, both in the clinic and in the laboratory, characterised the body of work with which she is identified. Some of it was related to common problems such as the effects of alcohol and diabetes on peripheral nerves. Other aspects dealt with toxic damage to nerves from a wide variety of substances; on this she was the national authority. Her opinion was sought abroad too, as in the outbreak of poisoning in Iraq, due to consumption in the early 1970s of wheat contaminated with organic mercury fungicides. She travelled twice to New Zealand to give evidence for the Crown in a unique and complex case of alleged poisoning.

In 1970 she married Leslie Le Quesne, professor of surgery at the Middlesex Hospital. As she said at the time she thought she could do two jobs well, but not three; marriage was the given, and since research could be more easily accommodated to family life than clinical neurology could, she resigned her post as consultant neurologist at the Middlesex, but continued to work there as a member of the Medical Research Council’s toxicology unit. Her great clinical skills were not lost to medicine altogether. She became an honorary consultant to the Middlesex and to the National Hospital, Queen Square.

Paddy Le Quesne was a fine teacher, both in the lecture room and in the laboratory, where she trained a succession of young neurologists. Her didactic skills and her scientific contribution were recognised in 1980 by the award of the triennial Pewterer’s lectureship at the Institute of Neurology.

Beyond medicine she had wide interests which she pursued with the same energy and attention to detail that she gave to her work. Music was an abiding passion. Typical of her style was her preparation for one of the Ring Cycles at Covent Garden in the 1960s. She summoned a small group of friends (including Bryan Magee, a friend from Oxford days who was already an authority on Wagner). Together they listened to the Solti recording beginning on a Friday night and finishing on Sunday afternoon, with intervals for erudite discussion over excellent meals which she prepared and in the course of invigorating walks on nearby Hampstead Heath. In retirement she returned to studying the piano with notable success.

Paddy Le Quesne’s family was the centre of her life. She and Leslie developed many of their interests together, both intellectual, and out-door; their house in Devon was a particular joy. She was immensely proud of their two sons. Her final illness, cancer, was a long one,courageously borne. She made light of its manifestations and continued to show her characteristic zest for life and concern for others to the end.

W I McDonald

[Brit.med.J., 1999,319,1272; The Times 24 Sept 1999]

(Volume XI, page 333)

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