Lives of the fellows

Walter Dickson

b.31 August 1914 d.2 May 2001
MB ChB Manchester(1940) DCH(1946) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1971)

Walter Dickson was a consultant paediatrician in Bolton. A tall athletic man, truly a ‘gentle giant’, he was an outstanding cricketer and rugby player at his school, William Hulme’s Grammar School, Manchester. As a medical student at Manchester University he continued to play rugby, but, in spite of his sporting commitments, he sailed through his undergraduate training and graduated MB ChB in 1940. The day of his qualification, which should have been a happy one, unfortunately coincided with the death of his father.

After house appointments at Ancoats Hospital, he served in the RAMC from 1941 to 1946. He married Jean Hill in 1942 and they had two children, David and Gillian.

On demobilisation, he returned to Manchester and set his sights on a career in paediatrics. He worked at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Hope Hospital, and in the department of child health at Manchester University, before being appointed consultant paediatrician to Wigan, Leigh and Bolton, a mammoth responsibility. With the availability of more trained paediatricians, Walter Dickon’s parish was limited to Bolton, but this was a single-handed post for some considerable time.

He was a good paediatrician with general interests, but he did undertake a major investigation on the treatment of asthmatic children with Intal. Amongst other interests was the care of patients with cerebral palsy.

On acquiring his consultant post, he bought a big house a reasonable distance from his hospitals. Not surprisingly the house had a large garden, and it was adjacent to a golf club. The site of the house enabled Walter and Jean to enjoy their gardening and golf, and, by converting a large outhouse to include a studio, allowed them to pursue a passion for oil painting for which they attended classes. It must be said that, although Walter achieved some success with his painting, his efforts were outshone by the skill of his wife.

It was a delight to be included in the Dickson family hospitality. Walter was teased mercilessly by the other members of the family when, to the enjoyment of all, it was discovered that he had put the wallpaper in the dining room up upside down. A further example of his occasional lapse of attention occurred when he was taking a family history from a filthy mother with an even dirtier child. Having concentrated long enough to discover that the mother was well, his thoughts strayed and he said “…and is the father filthy too”. His courtesy and lack of concentration extended to his driving. If he had a back seat passenger he would frequently turn to carry on a conversation with the terrified captive.

He pursued his hobbies, he doted on his wife and children, and ran a first class paediatric practice. He was very popular with both patients and parents, with the local doctors, and with his medical and nursing colleagues. Perhaps it is worth recording that during one of his more junior jobs a less than reverent sister affectionately named him ‘the cuddly bear’, a name that survived.

Walter Dickson’s idyllic existence was steadily eroded by his wife’s chronic ill health, and after retirement he was loath to leave her. Pleasures such as foreign holidays, which they had both enjoyed, ceased, and it was with extreme anxiety that he left her for more than a short time. He cooked, shopped and cared for Jean, and when she died he was completely lost. From this time his own health deteriorated and with advancing cardiac and cerebrovascular disease his own mobility was curtailed. Finally, he had to go into a care home, but his children ensured that his own home he had loved was maintained. Two days before he died he was taken back to ‘The Gables’, his beloved home. Flowers from his garden were arranged to welcome him and he died peacefully.

G V Feldman

[Brit.med.J., 2002,325,283-4]

(Volume XI, page 157)

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