Lives of the fellows

Robert Wilbur Temple

b.3 May 1916 d.25 January 2003
BA MB BCh BAO Dublin(1938) MRCP(1948) MRCPI(1948) FRCPI(1969) FRCP(1972)

Wilbur Temple's death marked the end of an era - he was a cherished doctor, and the first NHS physician to be appointed to his district in Northern Ireland. He was born in Donegal, the second son of Robert and Ellen Sarah Temple. His father founded the old clothing firm of Magee of Donegal Town, famed for its tweeds and knitwear. His education on the shores of Lough Erne, at Protora Royal, Enniskillen, was followed by medical school at Trinity College, Dublin, and early training at Sheffield. He served as captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, participating in the North African campaign and the Allied landings at Salerno in Italy. He was mentioned in a despatch as a result of his valiant work and service.

He was appointed in 1949 as consultant physician in Coleraine, Ballymoney and Moyle (Ballycastle), a district comprising five hospitals in the Causeway coast area of north eastern Ireland. There he worked until his retirement at 65 years, in 1981.

Wilbur worked single handed for 15 years and on a one in two rota for most of the remainder of his busy professional life. During all of this time acute general medicine included paediatrics. Acute admissions were to two separate hospital sites ten miles apart, outpatients clinics were held in three sites, junior staff cover was sparse and often inexperienced, domiciliary visits were a regular, sometimes daily, routine and a commitment to some private work was expected. The personal call on the time and skill of the general physician was demanding, even harrowing. His patience and dedication to duty, delivered with unassuming modesty, set standards of commitment and of care which have no parallel in our present professional climate. Despite the loss of an eye from malignant melanoma in 1969 his work capacity and discipline remained undiminished.

He married Margaret McMullin, also a Trinity College medical graduate and a hospital colleague in the ophthalmic department. Their son Mark is now consultant nephrologist and clinical director in Birmingham. Their daughter Celia is a general practitioner in Edinburgh. Their family home 'Holme Lea', a stately old mansion in spacious grounds overlooking the River Bann, was a pleasure they shared generously with the many friends and colleagues invited of an evening. Wilbur always visited the wards with his family on Christmas day without fail, a habit maintained until his 86th year.

A man of integrity and belief, not opinionated or in any respect flashy, he was dedicated to service. The respect and trust in which he was held in the community were returned with honours. He did his terms with pride and distinction as deputy lieutenant to the county of Londonderry and captain of Royal Portrush.

He was a keen angler and his week in Donegal to Lake Melvin for the 'mayfly hatch' with angling friends and colleagues was a time treasured and protected for him.

Much has changed since Wilbur retired. He helped to bring about the construction of the New Causeway Hospital, to replace the Old Coleraine and Route Hospital. His last contribution to this project came in the form of a public letter of support for it some ten years after he retired from active clinical work.

Derek Sinnamon

(Volume XI, page 577)

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