Lives of the fellows

Wilfrid Allen Oliver

b.29 September 1913 d.22 January 1998
MBE(1943) MB BS Lond(1936) MRCS LRCP(1936) MD(1938) MRCP(1938) FRCP(1958)

Wilfrid Allen Oliver was a physician and cardiologist to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital from 1946 to 1978. He also held consultant appointments at the Jenny Lind Hospital for Children, the West Norwich Hospital and at Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Hospitals.

The son of a timber merchant, he was born in Croydon and was educated at Dulwich College. He entered St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College in 1930 where he had a distinguished student career, winning prizes and scholarships. After qualifying in 1936 he was appointed house physician to L J Witts [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.618] on the medical professorial unit at St Bartholomew’s, an appointment he held for sixteen months.

As was then a common practice for those intending to train as physicians, he then spent two years studying pathology. In the first year he was junior demonstrator of bacteriology under L P Garrod [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.203], was awarded the Lawrence research scholarship and undertook research work on pneumonia. In the second year he was appointed senior demonstrator of morbid anatomy and histology.

In 1938, he gained his MD and passed the membership examination of the College. In the same year he was appointed clinical assistant to the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. In 1939 he became chief assistant at St Bartholomew’s under A E Gow [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.564] and to its cardiac department under Geoffrey Bourne [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.53].

After the outbreak of Second World War he enlisted in the RAMC, was graded a medical specialist with the rank of major and was posted to the Middle East Command. Here he served both with forward units and at base hospitals. Among the former he served in 1942 as medical specialist to a thoracic unit attached to a casualty clearing station in the desert and was awarded the MBE for services to the unit. Among his base hospitals was the military sanatorium at Jerusalem and a general hospital in Egypt. During this posting there was a major outbreak of smallpox among the civilian and military population. Oliver reported on the 100 cases admitted to the military general hospital in a paper in The Lancet (Nov 25 1944, p.681). He was eventually demobilized in November 1945 and returned to his post as a chief assistant to St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

In 1946 he was appointed as a physician to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where his duties were those of a general physician and cardiologist. He was also appointed part-time paediatrician to the Jenny Lind Hospital for Children prior to its amalgamation with the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in 1975 and was physician to the then Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Hospitals on the east Norfolk coast.

He played a major role in the development of the hospital service in Norwich and Norfolk in the post-war period and after the inception of the National Health Service in 1948. He was particularly concerned with the development of the cardiac department in Norwich which dated from the time of H J Starling, physician from 1919 to 1939, brother of the physiologist and a founder member of the Cardiac Club, later the Cardiac Society of Great Britain and Ireland. With the help of his surgical colleague, A B Birt, Oliver brought to Norwich the modern cardiology of his generation and established one of the leading cardiac centres at a district general hospital in the country. With his talented clinical skills, a remarkably retentive memory and prodigious energy he developed a large clinical practice and left a lasting legacy in his contribution to Norwich medicine and especially to Norwich cardiology. He had a particular skill in handling his Norfolk patients and their relatives and was a much appreciated teacher of the medical and nursing staff. He also did much to foster the future careers of those doctors who worked for him.

Because of his experience with smallpox in the Middle East during the Second World War he was appointed adviser in smallpox to the East Anglian Regional Hospital Board (later Health Authority) for the duration of his consultant appointment. Though called to a number of suspected cases he reported that he never saw a case of smallpox during his years in East Anglia. Among his other medical appointments there were two he continued after his retirement from the NHS in 1978. These were his membership of the medical committee of the Norwich Union Insurance Group and of the Medical Tribunal Service.

A tall and imposing figure of 6 foot 4 inches ‘Bill’, as he was known to his friends, was a man of great character, a tireless worker, and with a distinctive and memorable sense of humour. Outside medicine he had many interests which he pursued with the same energy that characterised his professional work. An enthusiastic sailor, he sailed regularly with the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club of which he was commodore during 1976 to 1977; he was also a member of the Norfolk Broads’ Yacht Club. He was a keen golfer and a member of the Royal Norwich Golf Club. His other interests included shooting, fishing and fast motor cars. Finally, he had a great love of music, especially opera, and was a friend of Glyndebourne.

In 1947 he married Daisy Constance Cecilia (née Whatley), an accomplished Norfolk Broads’ sailor in her day, by whom he had a son and a daughter. Daisy died a year after his retirement from the NHS and he later married Pamela May Lambden, his medical assistant in cardiology, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and a friend of Glyndebourne. The last years of Oliver’s life were affected by progressive vascular disease. This he faced with much courage and lack of self-pity and with the great support and help of his wife. He died at his home in Lenwade, a Norfolk village to which he had moved from Norwich after his retirement.

Anthony Batty Shaw

[The Norfolk and Norwich Institute for Medical Education Journal (1999) 13:33-34]

(Volume XI, page 435)

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