Lives of the fellows

Michael George Corbett Ashby

b.1 November 1914 d.10 December 2004
BM BCh Oxon(1941) MRCP(1942) FRCP(1965)

Michael Ashby (always known as 'Mike') was a consultant neurologist at the Whittington Hospital, north London. He was born in London, the son of Arthur Brian Ashby, a barrister and company chairman, and Dame Margery Corbett-Ashby. He was educated at Ashdown House Preparatory School and at Oundle. He went on to study medicine at New College, Oxford, and at the London Hospital. Whilst at Oxford he rowed in the University boat that won the Boat Race in 1936 and 1937, and he captained his college crew in his final year when they were Head of the River. At the London he was United Hospitals light-heavyweight boxing champion in two successive years.

After qualifying, he was a house physician at the London and then at Brompton, before joining the RAMC, in which he served from 1943 until 1947, becoming a medical specialist in 1945. He had already developed an interest in neurology, and spent some time at the Army neurology-neurosurgery unit at St Hugh's College, Oxford.

On discharge from the Army in 1947 he was, for a while, supernumerary registrar at the National Hospital, Queen Square, and then returned to the London Hospital as senior registrar to Russell Brain [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.60] and Ronald Henson [Munk's Roll, Vol.X, p.211]. In 1949 he was appointed as the first consultant neurologist to the Whittington Hospital in north London, where he remained until he took early retirement in 1975. He succeeded Macdonald Critchley [Munk's Roll, Vol.X, p.83] as consultant neurologist to the Royal Masonic Hospital in 1965, also retiring from there in 1975. His private practice included much medico-legal work, and he was involved in a number of celebrated trials, including those for murder, first of Guenther Podola and later of John Bodkin Adams.

At the Whittington Hospital (then the largest general hospital in the country) he worked single-handedly in the neurology unit for a while until he was joined by Peter Croft [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.125]. Mike was greatly esteemed by his colleagues as a clinician, and as a postgraduate teacher and clinical demonstrator.

He presented a memorable paper at the Association of British Neurologists in the mid-1960s on the compensatory effect of vision on the disorder of gait and posture in lesions of the basal ganglia. He showed a film of a railway signalman with Parkinson's disease. He lived in a cottage about half a mile from his signal box, and would walk to and from work. As he walked by the side of the line his gait was small-stepped. But when he stepped onto the wooden sleepers, his gait improved dramatically, and he lollopped along from sleeper to sleeper at a great pace.

In 1944 Mike married Pamela Mary Roffey, the daughter of Edgar Stuart Roffey, a solicitor. They had two sons and two daughters. Their family life was happy, though marred by the tragic death in a car crash of their elder daughter, Charlotte, in 1966, the day before her 21st birthday.

Outside medicine, Mike had a wide variety of interests. His family's connection with the Draper's Company went back to the 18th century, and both his father and grandfather had been warden. Mike was a kind and generous friend, and often invited a colleague or friend as his guest to a Draper's dinner in the City. As a freemason he was, for many years, director of ceremonies at the London Hospital Lodge.

After graduation, he took no further part in organised athletic pursuits, but he was a keen and experienced sailor, and he also took part in country sports. His hobbies included boat-building, engineering and metal craftsmanship. He constructed a swimming pool unaided at his home in Birch Grove. He was severely disabled in his last few years following a stroke, and was looked after devotedly by Pamela, who survives him with their three children and eight grandchildren.

Eric Nieman

(Volume XII, page web)

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