Lives of the fellows

Desmond Gilbert Cromie Whyte

b.20 September 1913 d.10 February 1998
DSO KstJ MB BCh BAO Belf(1937) MD(1951) DMRD(1951) MRCP(1952) MRCP Edin(1952) FRFPS Glasg(1952) FRCP Edin(1958) FFR(1958) FFR RCSI(1962) FRCP Glasg(1964) FRCP(1973) FRCR(1975)

Desmond Whyte was a respected and talented consultant radiologist at Altnagelvin Hospital, Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Over many years he had a major influence on the development of the hospital.

When Altnagelvin opened he realised it would be the major hospital outside Belfast and it would have a valuable function in teaching and training all health care staff. He rapidly set about establishing a post-graduate medical education centre and library, followed by the school of radiography. The school soon became notable for its excellence and high standard of training offered and Whyte took much pride in celebrating the ongoing success of the students and their tutors. He was always personally involved in teaching and he enjoyed tutoring doctors for higher diplomas in medicine, surgery, radiology and anaesthetics.

He set very high personal standards in his work. He pioneered the introduction of open access radiography for general practitioners to ensure patients got X-rays quickly and he was in the forefront of the development of interventional techniques in radiology. He would never leave his department, no matter how late the hour, until all radiographs of the day had been reported on. In retirement, he paid close and admiring attention to the further development of the department of radio-diagnosis.

His professional diligence and determination was undoubtedly influenced by his experience in the Royal Army Medical Corps. As a lieutenant colonel working behind enemy lines in Burma in 1944, he practiced under conditions of extreme deprivation and danger. A fellow officer, Richard Rhodes James, in his book Chindit (London, Sphere, 1981) wrote of Whyte: "Doc Whtye worked all through the day and most of the night still whistling to himself Moonlight becomes you, and still hopelessly out of tune. He used to go about clad only in the briefest of loin-cloths and carrying his carbine. I half expected him to take to the trees, until I saw him handle his patients and then realized where he belonged!" Whyte was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his gallantry and service.

He was keenly interested in BMA affairs throughout his long career and had the pleasure of hosting the BMA scientific meeting in Altnagelvin Hospital in 1967. He considered it to be a very special honour when he was appointed a fellow of the British Medical Association in 1985 in recognition of his services to the Association.

Outside of medicine his interests were many and to all he devoted great energy. For over 30 years he was involved with the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, serving successively as area commissioner and president. His work was recognised with an award of Knight of Justice of the Order. In retirement he was a vigorous worker and fundraiser for the Cancer Research Campaign and served as its Northern Ireland president.

He involved himself in local British Legion affairs and always regarded it a great privilege and responsibility to represent the Legion at Remembrance Day ceremonies. Through the British Legion and Burma Star Association he honoured and remembered those of his comrades killed or seriously wounded in various conflicts.

He served as a Justice of the Peace and as High Sheriff for the County Borough of Londonderry.

He married his wife, Patricia, in 1946. In such a full life leisure time was limited. He enjoyed music and gardening and revelled when the latter involved some slash and burn work. He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and keenly followed the affairs of the organization.

A H G Love

(Volume XI, page 619)

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