Lives of the fellows

Raymond Hierons

b.14 June 1921 d.7 March 2001
BSc Manch(1941) MRCS LRCP(1944) MB ChB(1944) MRCP(1950) FRCP(1967)

Raymond Hierons was one of the leading clinical neurologists of his generation. He published more than 50 papers, mostly about clinical neurology. These included The epileptic driver 1956 which was influential in highlighting the dangers of epileptics driving at a time when epilepsy was thought to be linked only rarely to road traffic accidents. He also wrote a series of articles on the seventeenth century neurologist, Thomas Willis, and on the French neurologist of the nineteenth century, Jean-Martin Charcot.

Raymond Hierons was the son of a steel foundry foreman in Middlesborough. The first boy ever to pass the 11-plus exam in the suburb in which his family lived, he attended Coatham Grammar School in Redcar. He studied medicine at Manchester University where he was active in student politics. A founder member of the British Medical Students Association, he and others persuaded the medical authorities to fund this new body on its split from the National Union of Students. He became its first treasurer as well as president of the Manchester branch. On the day of his graduation from medical school in 1944 his father, a lifelong teetotaller and by this time a prominent local businessman, paid for free drinks in all the local public houses.

Hierons took up his first post at the Manchester Royal Infirmary as house physician to Fergus Ferguson [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.175]. His influence and that of the eminent neurosurgeon, Sir Geoffrey Jefferson [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.213], led him to a career in neurology. Hierons was able to pursue these ambitions as a surgeon lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves,spending part of his time at the Barrow Gurney Naval Hospital attached to the unit of Macdonald Critchley [Munk's Roll, Vol.X, p.83]. On return to civilian life, he held junior posts at the postgraduate hospital, Hammersmith, and from 1950 to 1954 was resident medical officer at the National Hospital, Queen Square. At Queen Square Hierons worked with Critchley and Sam Nevin [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.428] at King's College Hospital and spent a number of months working with the leading French neurologists of the time at L'hôpital Pitié Salpétrière in Paris.

During the mid to late 1950s consultant appointments in neurology were scarce. There were just over 100 consultant neurologists throughout England. In 1956, Hierons accepted a consultant position based at the Brook Hospital in Woolwich, covering the whole of South East England. The neurological unit was subsequently enlarged and transferred to King's College Hospital but for many years Hierons was the sole consultant neurologist from South East London to the Kent coast. He travelled regularly to all the major hospitals in the area including Orpington, Canterbury and Margate. He gained a vast experience of clinical neurology. In spite of a heavy workload, he continued to contribute academic articles and to attend and participate in the weekly presentation of cases at Queen Square known as 'the circus'. Never shy to say what he thought, he once memorably prefaced what he considered to be one too many in a series of similar presentations by saying in a loud voice 'Oh my God, which bloody enzyme has gone wrong this time!'

From the mid-1950s to the late 1980s and sporadically thereafter Heirons was a regular contributor to leading journals such as Brain and The British Medical Journal. Most of his articles drew heavily on his clinical experience of epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and other neurological conditions. But Hierons also had an interest in medical history and he wrote a series of articles on the anatomical discoveries and clinical contributions of Thomas Willis with his great friend, neuropathologist Alfred Meyer of the Maudsley hospital.

Although not active in medical politics, Hierons held high office in the Association of British Neurologists and the Harveian Society. He was a regular attendee and speaker at overseas neurological conferences and became well known to neurologists in other countries. In the mid-1970s, he accepted an invitation from Norman Geschwind of Harvard University to spent some months working at Harvard and he found this visit highly stimulating. Probably as a result of his time at Harvard, shortly before retiring from the National Health Service, he hosted a large party of distinguished North American neurologists visiting London through the People to People Organisation.

His colleagues will best recall Hierons for his careful and sound clinical opinion and diagnostic ability; but he will also be remembered as an excellent teacher. Many of his former house physicians and registrars became consultant neurologists in England and in other countries and this was his proudest achievement.

In retirement he continued to attend Queen Square on a weekly basis and also to publish articles both on medical history and, often with former colleagues, on clinical neurology. He developed a large medico-legal practice and became a respected and reliable expert witness in major head injury trials.

Apart from his professional life, he valued his family and friends greatly. In later years he was able to indulge his love of France, spending many holidays at his cottage in the Cevennes. He also devoted much time to his hobby of fly fishing, sometimes with one of his grandchildren.

He died in Hampstead after a long illness and is survived by his son and his family. His wife, Mary, whom he married in 1952, pre-deceased him.

D G James

[Brit.med.J., 2001,322,1607;The Times 3 Apl 2001]

(Volume XI, page 265)

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