Lives of the fellows

Richard Gore Benians

b.4 June 1916 d.27 December 2003
BA Cantab(1937) MB BChir(1940) MA(1941) MRCP(1949) MD(1951) FRCP(1975)

Richard Gore Benians's crowning achievement was to elevate the hospital care of the elderly in Southend to the same high standard offered on the general wards.

Richard was the third child of Thomas and Amy Benians at Goudhurst, Kent. Like his father, a microbiologist, Richard studied medicine. After Tonbridge School, he entered St John's College, Cambridge, completing clinical studies at the Middlesex Hospital, London. He acquired an honours degree in natural sciences in 1937, and qualified MB BChir in 1940. He went on to achieve an MD in 1951. He became a member of the College in 1947, acquiring the Fellowship in 1975.

His first real house job was in Ipswich as a house physician, where he carried out varied duties, including paediatrics. Through this he met Molly Aiken, a premature baby unit staff nurse, to whom he became engaged, although they did not marry until after VE Day. Richard considered a career in paediatrics, but his revulsion at the death of some of the premature babies dissuaded him. Ever practical, Richard turned his hand to constructing home-made incubators from scrap materials. With what success has not been recorded, but his activities incurred the wrath of sister! This was before the days of ventilators and antibiotics.

In the RAMC, Richard served in Syria, Egypt and Palestine and he took part in the Sicily landings. He also served in an Indian regiment. He was not demobilised until 1946. He had hoped to serve in the Far East after his marriage on 16 July 1945, but VJ Day intervened. Along with many other ex-service doctors, Richard faced fierce competition for advancement at home. The great smogs of the early 1950s influenced him towards becoming a chest physician. Between 1958 and 1959 he served as assistant geriatrician in Bradford.

In 1959, he was appointed consultant geriatrician and physician to Southend Health Authority. He strove ceaselessly throughout his time in Southend to raise the standard of medical and nursing care for old people. He was determined to apply his first-rate standards primarily as a physician actually treating, rather than simply accommodating, ill old people. Voluntarily, he visited the homes of old people on his waiting list to monitor who next should be admitted. He introduced the Zimmer frame to Southend, and possibly to the UK.

Richard was a staunch egalitarian, a man of principle who devoted his whole career to public medicine and the National Health Service. He was a great teacher, revered by countless GPs, junior doctors, nurses and hospital staff of all degrees who were informed, entertained and inspired by his lectures, even if some of his jokes were a little esoteric.

Richard's research interests followed his basic interest in chest diseases. His MD thesis was on cyanotic attacks in chronic lung disease. His many publications included case studies on active pulmonary tuberculosis complicated by Addison's disease, stroke, and a paper on low nose tip temperatures in the old.

Richard was a dinghy sailor and a keen horticulturalist. He experimented with growing sweet corn, tobacco and grapes, and made wine out of almost anything. Richard died after a series of debilitating strokes that had started in 1992 and which increasingly deprived him of clear speech. This was a bitter blow for such a witty raconteur. He had often kept friends and family entranced with his tales of army and hospital service. He is survived by his widow, Edith Florence ('Seany' to her family and 'Molly' to everyone else), their three children, Guy, Helen and Nikki and eight grandchildren.

Nikki Taylor
Robin Benians

(Volume XI, page 50)

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