Lives of the fellows

Arthur Maclagen Kingon

b.1 September 1920 d.12 December 2004
MBE MRCS LRCP(1951) MB BS Lond(1955) MRCP(1959) FRCP(1978)

For 17 years Arthur Kingon provided an innovative and dependable geriatric service across a wide swathe of north Somerset, whilst contributing to the acute medical service at Weston-super-Mare. Born in Grahamstown, South Africa, he was the son of John Robert Lewis Kingon, a Methodist minister who preached widely throughout South Africa. Arthur attended ten schools, but still matriculated from Kearsney College, Natal, at the early age of 16, by which time he was also a lay preacher.

The outbreak of the second world war terminated several years at the Standard Chartered Bank of South Africa. Arthur joined the South African Air Force and, following training in Kenya, became a Boston bomber pilot, seeing active service in northern Africa with 24 Squadron who dubbed him the 'fighting padre'. On 7 December 1941, whilst on a tactical and reconnaissance mission, his aircraft was attacked and caught fire. Arthur landed it and pulled out his two gunners (who would have otherwise perished). For this he was awarded the MBE for bravery. He was captured and became a POW. He was first held at Poppi in Tuscany, but escaped through sewers and remained on the run long enough to pick up passable Italian. Recaptured, he was held by the Germans at a camp at Lubeck, adding German to his canon.

Following the war, he was repatriated to South Africa, but left for England because of his intolerance of apartheid. He arrived at Guy's to study medicine at the age of 26, with few possessions and wearing some of his father's ill-fitting clothes. He never returned to South Africa. After junior posts at the pleural effusion unit, Queen Mary's Hospital Sidcup and the Brompton Hospital, Arthur joined the RAF and saw medical service in Germany, Aden and a number of British postings. He left the RAF as a wing commander. During his RAF years he wrote a service handbook for the management of venereal disease.

Following his RAF service, Arthur pursued the emerging specialty of geriatrics, taking a senior registrar post at the renowned unit at the Cowley Road Hospital, Oxford. In 1968 he was appointed as the first consultant physician and geriatrician to be based at Weston-super-Mare. His responsibilities extended to the population best defined by Ordinance Survey map 182 (excluding Bridgwater). In addition to Weston and Wells, this included a myriad of rural communities across northern Somerset. He established a service that at its zenith approached 500 beds. Arthur's 'kingdom' included beds at Paulton, Keynsham, St Johns and Shute Shelve, Axbridge, as well as four Weston-super-Mare facilities. Not only did he control admission into his beds, ensuring older people were not inappropriately institutionalised, but he sustained people in the community through developing a number of day hospitals across his 'patch' and the provision of dependable respite care. He undertook innumerable clinics, many of which reviewed older people receiving care in unregulated settings who would have otherwise remained unseen.

Arthur's style was characterised by his approach to domiciliary visits. They were by strict appointment, with the GP in attendance, with patient and family. All Arthur's findings were written in a triplicate book, together with his action plan. The top copy was given to the GP as a written record of the consultation, the second went into hospital records, and the third was retained by his office. Everyone knew what had been agreed and would be done! Patients, their families and doctors could have confidence in the service. In addition to all this he also took part in the acute medical admission rota at Weston's General Hospital and held a general medical outpatient clinic.

Arthur was unquestionably intolerant of indecision, having a strong sense of what was right and what was wrong. He did have eccentric tendencies and a sometimes testing demeanour that hid a sensitivity and unwavering commitment to the disadvantaged. With his onerous professional responsibilities spread so widely, he was a relative stranger at meetings either at Taunton or Bristol and was once disingenuously referred to as a 'physician with an interest in motoring', to which could only be added in the 'fast lane'. He was generously supportive to trainees who sought his help and unquestionably led several to careers caring for older people.

The demands, resources and commitment of Arthur's clinical work would have been unmanageable for most. He triumphed through a combination of his innate character, the companionship of his wife Margery, whom he married in 1948, his family, sons Neil and Angus, and the distraction of his estate with its small flock of sheep. He enjoyed travel, particularly in France, which enabled him to acquire his fourth language. As he approached retirement he was aware that his style of care was being superseded and he particularly ensured that all his staff (who incidentally were extraordinarily loyal) understood that change was necessary and inevitable.

Clive Bowman

[Brit.med.J.,2005,330,423]

(Volume XII, page web)

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