Lives of the fellows

Thomas Arthur Kemp

b.12 August 1915 d.26 November 2004
MB BChir Cantab(1940) MRCS LRCP(1940) MRCP(1941) FRCP(1949) MD(1953)

Tom Kemp was a consultant physician at St Mary's Hospital, London, and Paddington General Hospital. He was educated at Denstone school, and then St Catherine's College, Cambridge. He was house physician and registrar to Sir George Pickering [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.464], who was a major influence in his decision to become a physician. His army service during the second world war was largely in Egypt and afterwards in Iraq, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He was particularly interested in the physical and emotional health of young adults, and at St Mary's he was physician in charge of the student health service. He became president of the British Student Health Association, and on a travelling fellowship toured American medical schools, leading to a paper on the ecology of the medical student.

He was passionate about education - at all levels. He was a governor of several schools, including Denstone. His personal and direct approach to fund-raising for schools was highly successful. He was also a fellow of the Woodard Corporation, a group of Church of England schools. For him the most important - possibly the only important - quality of an educator was the ability to inspire. His own teaching style was by inspiration and guidance of small groups, rather than relying solely on the lecture theatre. He was not above a certain quirkiness, and once gave a noon lecture at St Mary's entitled 'Nothing in particular'. Long before elective periods were a regular feature of the clinical curriculum, he encouraged students to spend time working in tropical countries, where many found new sources of inspiration.

He felt that it was the duty of a teacher or a clinical chief to fire, by individual attention, the curiosity of all who would learn; many have attested to his skill in this regard, leading to an alteration in the direction of their careers and lives. His house physician and registrar posts were much sought after, and many holders of these posts became distinguished leaders of the profession.

He was an extraordinary rugby player, an outside-half whose international playing career spanned the second world war. He captained the England XV, without defeat, as a medical student (in two uncapped matches) in 1940, and as a consultant physician in 1948. For all his high profile matches, including those for Cambridge University, Barbarians, and as captain of a wartime Great Britain side, he would prefer to reminisce about his long involvement with St Mary's Hospital RFC, which he would serve as president in its centenary year. For years he would take teams of students to play against, entertain, and educate school XVs. Kicking to touch was forbidden, the style was running and passing, and ungentlemanly conduct was unthinkable. These matches were known to change the fortunes of a school's season and the rugby perceptions and aspirations of many young players.

He served on the Rugby Football Union from 1953, initially as the Cambridge University representative. He became an England selector and chairman of the Centenary Congress before being president from 1971 to 1972. During that tenure he was particularly proud of the fact that - despite some opposition - he welcomed a non-white South African team to England, and that England on their successful South African tour played against non-white teams. He was the first president of the England Students Rugby Union, a post he held until seven years before his death - with his lifelong concern with students and their welfare this was an appropriate final rugby duty.

He was extremely modest. It was hard to extract from him details of his successes. When, rarely, he mentioned an achievement there was usually a deflating comment to follow. He described a dropped goal at Iffley Road, only to explain that it was a sliced crosskick to the left wing. A very useful cricketer, he would tell of his pride in dismissing one of his boyhood heroes, Learie Constantine, and after a pause he would mention that he was caught on the boundary attempting yet another six after scoring a century.

Among his retirement activities was the care of his fine garden, which he designed for maximal maintenance to keep himself occupied. He stolidly avoided the installation of central heating, which he regarded as an unnecessary and probably dangerous luxury; the warmth of his house was largely in his welcome.

He was the first in his family to study medicine, but he was the first of three generations of physicians, living to see his grandson pass the membership examination.

Tom M Kemp

[Brit.med.J.,2003,330,422;The Daily Telegraph, 3 Jan 2005; The Times, 5 Jan 2005]

(Volume XII, page web)

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