Lives of the fellows

Timothy Roy Fenton

b.17 February 1948 d.13 April 2002
MB BS Lond(1971) MRCP(1975) MSc(1981) MD(1987) FRCP(1994) FRCPCH(1996)

Tim Fenton was a paediatrician in Greenwich, and a medical politician on the national stage. After Tonbridge School and Bart's, where he was a keen rugby player, Tim embarked upon a career in adult medicine, becoming a registrar at St Leonard's Hospital, London. He then changed direction, spending a year as house physician in paediatrics in Barragwanath Hospital, Johannesburg. Returning to London he pursued his paediatric career, working for, amongst others, Hugh Jolly [Munk's Roll, Vol.VIII, p.246], David Harvey, and Bill Marshall. After registrar posts in Queen's Hackney, and Great Ormond Street, he spent three years in gastroenterology research at the Institute of Child Health, London. He was awarded an MSc in 1981. Whilst he was senior registrar at Queen Mary's, Carshalton, and St George's he received an MD for his thesis entitled 'Disordered small intestinal motility in childhood and its role in the pathogenesis of toddler diarrhoea'.

In parallel with his medical career, Tim was also active in medical politics, becoming familiar to many of us from his appearances in the back pages of the BMJ. He sat on the National Hospital Junior Staff Committee, and was chairman of the negotiating subcommittee from 1983 to1985. He was junior representative on the Council for Postgraduate Medical Education, the council of the BMA, and Review Body Evidence Committee, the BPA manpower committee and the Child Health Forum.

In 1988 he was appointed consultant paediatrician to Greenwich, initially at the Brook and Greenwich District Hospitals, and latterly in the newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich. In Greenwich he quickly established himself as a hardworking and sought-after general paediatrician. He also set up a paediatric gastroenterology service, maintaining his skills by assisting in the adult endoscopy list. So effective was he that he was soon being accosted in the corridor by physicians wanting him to expand his adult service.

As a consultant he continued his interest in research, collecting a huge series comparing 24 hour pH monitoring against radiolabelled milk scanning in the assessment of persistent vomiting in infants. The work remains alas unpublished. He had studied the use of cisapride in infancy, lecturing on the subject in Brussels in 1988, so when its use was banned he was absolutely furious, regarding this as a ludicrous over-reaction to an unproven risk. He continued using it in a highly selected group of 'named' patients.

As a colleague he was held in the highest esteem, both for his intellect and for his encyclopedic, if sometimes eccentric, knowledge of paediatrics. Almost never roused in anger, his patience and consideration could calm the most outraged parent.

His medico-political career continued as a consultant. Immediately on arrival in Greenwich he became chairman of the local negotiating committee, a post which he retained until his death. He was chairman of the regional specialty sub-committee, chairman of the regional consultants specialist committee, on the council of the RCPCH and chairman of the paediatric liaison committee of the BMA and the RCPCH. As a committee chairman he was widely regarded for his fairness. He prepared carefully and filed everything.

Above all else, and in spite of his hectic workload, Tim was a devoted family man. He and his wife, Lesley, whom he had married in 1976 had a wide circle of mostly non-medical friends, many of whom enjoyed Fenton hospitality in their splendid Hackney home.

Tim's handwriting was famously impossible to read. In recent years it became progressively smaller until this and other symptoms led to a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. Initially upset, his sense of fun rapidly got the better of him, and he was soon pointing out to his colleagues that he could retire on health grounds any time he chose. Sadly, his devotion to the children of Greenwich, his colleagues, and the wider world of British medical practice kept him working until, without any warning, he died in his sleep from a massive myocardial infarct.

Andrew Evans

(Volume XI, page 188)

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