Lives of the fellows

Geoffrey Ismay

b.2 January 1920 d.7 March 2001
MB BS Durham(1942) MRCP(1949) MD(1956) FRCP(1972)

Geoffrey Ismay was a mainstay of NHS internal medicine in the north east of England with a lifetime of duty commitments which would make his modern equivalents seem positively under-occupied.

Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he was largely educated locally and graduated in 1942. After a spell in the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve in which he saw active service in the Mediterranean and Pacific, he pursued a career in internal medicine and was appointed consultant physician in 1958, based in Bishop Auckland. This was very much a county Durham mining town with a strong tradition of medical care being provided almost entirely by the National Health Service.

On his initial appointment he was directed not to inspect the current fabric of Bishop Auckland General Hospital (a series of wooden sheds built in the rounds of a Victorian workhouse for the Emergency Medical Service), but to consider instead the model of the new hospital in which he would undoubtedly be working. He didn’t believe it and he was right. The new hospital was finally opened in 2002.

There was always a somewhat troubled relationship with the local general practitioners, the most senior of whom tended to dominate the medical scene to the detriment of the staff working in the small and very basic Bishop Auckland General Hospital. He felt that there were definite limitations to this medical environment. One day, while walking down the main street, he found a knot of people gathered around a prostrate form on the pavement. Rushing forward to offer mouth-to-mouth ventilation and cardiac massage he was appalled to find that one of the observers was a mature partner in one of the most prestigious practices in town.

It was a test of his personality when in 1981 he was joined by two young Turks who brought specialist medicine to Bishop Auckland for the first time. He rose well to the challenge and was charmed by the idea that they insisted everybody took their full six week holiday entitlement each year, rather than the two weeks he had been used to.

Despite having a wonderful dry sense of humour and a fund of stories that would enliven any conversation, there was a great sadness in his life. His son, who was about to take up a place in medical school, was devastatingly injured in a rugby accident, and left tetraplegic. Geoffrey, and his wife Mary, cared for him at home over the years. On retirement in 1984 Geoffrey moved to Crieff to be near one of his two daughters.

His last official visit to Bishop Auckland was some years later, to attend the retirement festivities of medical colleagues. He was very taken with the idea of being accommodated in a four poster bed in a local manorial hotel.

His years of unassuming dedicated service to hospital medicine are a shining example of a fulfilled life under less than ideal circumstances.

Malcolm C Bateson

(Volume XI, page 290)

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