Lives of the fellows

William Neville Mann

b.4 April 1911 d.25 June 2001
MB BS Lond(1935) MRCS LRCP(1935) MD(1937) MRCP(1937) FRCP(1947) Hon DHL Johns Hopkins (1986)

William Mann was a prominent figure and physician at Guy's Hospital for over 30 years. He was born in Herne Hill, went to Alleyn's School and entered Guy's with an exhibition, proceeding to win several undergraduate prizes and finally achieving the rare distinction of being awarded the Treasurer's medal in both medicine and surgery.

After qualifying he worked for some time in the department of pathology before becoming medical registrar, first with Sir Arthur Hurst [Munk's Roll, Vol.IV, p.509] and J J (later Sir John) Conybeare [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.112] and then with Geoffrey (later Sir Geoffrey) Marshall [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.381] and Arthur Douthwaite [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.154]. Hurst at that time was one of the most brilliant and influential figures in British medicine and he made a deep and lasting impression on the young Mann who retained a lifelong admiration for him.

In 1939, at the age of 28 he became clinical tutor, a post usually leading to an appointment on the Guy's staff but, with the onset of the war he left to join the RAMC, initially serving on a hospital ship the Devonshire in the Indian Ocean. Later, as a lieutenant-colonel, he served in the Middle East, ending the war as a medical specialist at the Military Hospital in Edinburgh.

He returned to Guy's in 1946, was appointed physician and soon afterwards became director of the department of medicine. This was a new venture for Guy's whose senior staff were suspicious of clinical professors who were not to appear, at least in medicine and surgery, for several years. In the meantime the department of medicine was intended to oversee postgraduate teaching and research.

In 1950 he went to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, taking part in the exchange with Guy's of senior staff that had started soon after the war. Much later, at the 50th anniversary of the exchange, at a dinner in the Merchant Taylors' Hall in London, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of Johns Hopkins University.

In 1954 he was appointed physician to the Royal Household and in 1964 he became physician to the Queen. He retired from this position in 1970 and it surprised his colleagues and friends that he received no public recognition for this work.

At the College he was a censor and, in 1969 to 1970, senior censor and vice-president. In 1976 he delivered the Croonian lecture, on biliary cirrhosis, reflecting his long interest in gastroenterology and liver disease.

He wrote or edited several books. Early on, with John Forbes came Clinical examination of patients (London, Edward Arnold, 1950) which proved to be a popular introduction to clinical methods. In 1950, with his cousin John Chadwick, he produced The medical works of Hippocrates (Oxford, Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1950) and, when he was chief medical officer to Royal Insurance, wrote with the actuary Jack Evans A guide to life assurance underwriting (London, Stone and Cox, 1970). For many years he collaborated with his former chief, later his great friend, Sir John Conybeare, to edit and write a great deal of Conybeare's textbook of medicine, later undertaking this alone for three editions.

Willie Mann, as he was known to everyone (though not to his face), was an outstanding clinician and teacher. He was a true general physician, able to discuss with authority virtually any condition which he encountered. His ward rounds were formal affairs for which, somewhat ahead of his time, he always wore a white coat. This heavily starched garment would be prepared for him by his house physician who, before the round, was expected to thrust his arms down the sleeves making it easier for his chief to put on.

Tall, elegant and with a distinguished appearance, his students sometimes felt intimidated, particularly by his extraordinary erudition and his beautiful mastery of language but in reality he was a kind, courteous and warm person who was regarded with great affection by all who worked with him. Sometimes he would make startling observations. Once, when demonstrating the plantar response to a student he said 'Babinski showed this sign to Hurst in Paris. Hurst taught it to me and now I am showing it to you. It's a bit like the Apostolic succession, don't you think?'

He retired from Guy's in 1976, having been senior physician since 1963 and for some years continued his extensive private practice. He died at the age of 90 and until near the end of his long life was able to indulge in his wide range of cultural interests. As a talented amateur painter he spent many holidays in France painting scenes in watercolour which were then reproduced in oils on his return home.

Robert Knight

[The Times 9 July 2001; The Daily Telegraph 10 July 2001; Guy's Hospital Gazette Oct 2001]

(Volume XI, page 375)

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