Lives of the fellows

Frederick James Woodroffe

b.26 June 1928 d.19 July 2001
MB BS Lond(1961) MRCS LRCP(1961) MRCP(1966) MSc(1975) FRCP(1978)

Virtually self-educated, Fred Woodroffe was a man of man parts - a physician, expert biochemist, accomplished chorister and general handyman. He rose in his profession, becoming consultant physician to Highlands Hospital, London, and the Chase Farm Hospital Trust, and honorary physician to the diabetic clinic of King's College Hospital, London, but never forgot and was justly proud of his relatively humble origins.

Born the son of a fancy leather worker, he went to a local elementary school and passed the 11-plus examination, then an entry to grammar school. However, the Second World War broke out in September 1939 and Fred never went to school again. His further education is somewhat of a mystery, but he was sufficiently literate to become a compositor.

Between 1946 and 1948 he served as a national serviceman in the RAMC. Here he was in contact with several doctors and thought that - in his own words - "if these idiots can qualify in medicine so can I." The road to do this was not apparent and he returned to compositing, but went to night school to take O and A levels. In his spare time he became a scoutmaster and so met Janet (Jan) Clark, who ran the local cub pack. They married in 1955 and to their great delight Fred was accepted as a mature student by King's College Hospital Medical School. Qualifying in 1961 with honours and distinction in surgery, he became in turn a houseman, medical registrar at the Metropolitan and St Mary's Hospitals, and a lecturer in medicine at King's.

In 1970 he was appointed consultant physician with a special interest in diabetes and endocrinology to Highlands Hospital, London. He brought an encyclopedic knowledge of medicine, tremendous enthusiasm and energy to his duties in a small but busy district general hospital. But this was not enough for Fred. He had what he laughingly called his "private practice". Every Monday morning, in association with the Salvation Army, he held a clinic for "down and outs" at an old billiard hall in Westminster. This was one part of his practical Christianity: there were many other acts of kindness, done quietly and usually unknown to anyone save the beneficiaries.

Additionally, he became clinical tutor at Highlands, developing a multi-disciplinary education centre open to (and extensively used by) members of all disciplines within the hospital and by the local GPs. Somehow he found time to do an MSc in general biochemistry.

As a man Fred was outspoken and forthright. He had little patience with committee work and administration. His "John Blunt" approach and his hostility to what he considered cant and hypocrisy were not always sympathetically received. He never sought popularity but as a kind, caring and concerned person Fred was widely respected, liked and admired by his patients and by hospital staff of all grades.

On his retirement, he hoped to settle in his much-loved Yorkshire. This was not to be. Illness intervened and he died from carcinoma of the gall-bladder. When hearing of his death a local GP said, "Fred was a good man and a nice man." He would have wished for no better epitaph.

Harold Caplan

(Volume XI, page 639)

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