Lives of the fellows

William Ernest Beer

b.5 July 1926 d.10 December 1999
MB BS Madras(1950) MRCP Edin(1963) FRCP Edin(1976) FRCP(1982)

William Ernest Beer was a consultant dermatologist in Bangor, Wales. He was born in Southern India amongst the Nilgiri Hills. His father was assistant director of the local Pasteur institute and engaged in anti-rabies research. His great-grandfather, George Beer, a man of humble origins, had gone to India from Devon with William Bowden where, with the assistance of their wives, they had succeeded in establishing churches, hospitals and a school.

Bill Beer’s medical studies commenced in Madras and there then followed junior hospital posts in the Vellore Medical School. Here he came under the influence of an American dermatologist, H Gass, whose enthusiasm for the subject shaped his subsequent choice of career.

After marriage he and his wife, Joan, chose to return to Nilgiri Hills to work in a mission hospital. Then, owing to a change of policy for tea estate hospitals, they decided to come to Britain. Bill was able to specialise in dermatology as a result of support from the Nilgiri mission. He initially enrolled as a full time post-graduate student at St John’s Hospital and, after passing the membership exam of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, he was appointed senior registrar at Westminster Hospital where he worked under Peter Samman [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.459].

Although he did not know North Wales he applied successfully for the post of consultant dermatologist for the Gwynedd region. Prior to his appointment the task of building up a dermatology service for the whole of North Wales was in the hands of Ellen Emslie who had introduced modern understanding, techniques and treatment to the area. Bill Beer was able to build on this foundation and, over the years, established a reputation for the quality of his service and professional skill.

His infectious enthusiasm for the practical and academic aspects of dermatology influenced many of his colleagues, not to mention the many undergraduate and post-graduate doctors who assisted him in the skin clinics.

His intense interest in dermatology resulted in many research activities and publications, eventually leading to the award of the Wycombe prize in 1993 by the British Association of Dermatology - two years after his retirement from the NHS.

Medicine was not his only enthusiasm. He had very wide interests, including the Welsh language, in which he became fluent, music, gardening, astronomy and mountain walking. Both he and his wife were renowned for their hospitality and for the pastoral care they gave to junior doctors and university students. His life, both professional and personal, was profoundly influenced by a deeply held Christian faith.

He was tragically killed in a car accident, shortly after completing a history of the old Caernarfon and Anglesey Hospital, which will serve as a fitting memorial to his intense commitment to the area and to his colleagues.

O P Galpin

[Brit.Med.J.,2000,320,806]

(Volume XI, page 47)

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