Lives of the fellows

Robin Eliot Irvine

b.27 September 1920 d.25 December 2002
CBE BA Cantab(1942) MRCP(1948) MD(1955) MA(1958) FRCP(1968)

'Bobby' Irvine was a consultant geriatrician of distinction who made important contributions to this developing specialty. After school at Winchester College he read medicine at King's College, Cambridge, and Guy's Hospital, where he was awarded the Golding Bird prize for medicine. After qualification and house jobs at Guy's he served as a medical officer in the Army until 1947. Returning to hospital practice in Cheltenham, the Brompton Hospital, Guy's, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Sunderland, he gained experience and higher qualifications, before being appointed consultant physician in geriatric medicine to the Hastings Health Authority in 1958.

At that time he had the care of 600 patients a year in 300 chronic sick beds disposed in four hospitals. In this he was assisted by a part-time house physician and a few GP sessions. Over the years he saw the beds reduced to 200, the yearly number of admissions rise to 4,000, and the staff increase to include four consultants and nine others. He had seen a period of great change and had the satisfaction of having contributed significantly to it.

His main interest was interdisciplinary collaboration. Working with the orthopaedic surgeon Mr M B Devas, he helped establish the world's first geriatric orthopaedic unit. One of the first geriatric day hospitals played it's part in the scheme. Many doctors from home and overseas were trained in geriatric medicine in his unit.

As Hastings' first clinical tutor he organized clinical meetings and helped in the formation of a post-graduate centre. By his writing he added significantly to the literature on his subject.

In 1981 he was elected president of the British Geriatrics Society and served on numerous committees both local and national, becoming consultant adviser in geriatric medicine to the Ministry of Health. The award of CBE for his work was much deserved.

In 1947 he married Florence Margaret (Peggy) Walter, a Guy's nurse who came from Guernsey. So it was that after retirement they moved to that island in 1986. A man of wide interests and love of life, Bobby was soon involved in island life. He took an interest in the local medical scene and served the community on the committees of the hospice and of a geriatric home. Golf, bridge, bird watching, nature walks, choral singing and drama were all embraced, but above all he was interested in people. He loved people and people loved him and this brought him many new friends. He did not forget his old friends or his roots and worked hard at organizing annual reunions for his Guy's contemporaries. Typically he was interested in their doings even if they did not attend!

Sadly he lost his beloved Peggy in 1996, but his large and loving family, his friends and his out-going spirit sustained him, as did the Christian faith which was central to his being. A devout Catholic he had the honour of being a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.

The onset of Parkinson's disease curtailed his activities in recent years and then inoperable bowel cancer combined with it to weaken him progressively. He accepted this and looked forward to being re-united with Peggy. Increasing debility failed to lower his spirit and he drew great strength from his church, which he attended daily until the end. He allowed nothing to prevent his active interest in life around him and in his seven children and 16 grandchildren. Appreciative, as always, he never ceased to praise all the wonderful people who cared for him by day and night and made it possible for him to remain in his own home.

J R Dickson

[The Independent 5 Feb 2003; Brit.med.J., 2003,326,227]

(Volume XI, page 288)

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