Lives of the fellows

Anthony Dominic Abdullah

b.20 May 1902 d.9 January 1999
MB ChM Sydney(1926) MRCP(1930) FRCP(1965)

Note: the first obituary (below) was published in print form in Volume XI; the second was received after publication of the printed edition.

Anthony Dominic Abdullah was a consultant geriatrician at Central Middlesex Hospital. He was born in Cairns, Australia, the son of Anthony Stephen Abdullah, a merchant, and Mary Isaac, the daughter of a farmer. He was educated in Australia and studied medicine at Sydney University.

He was a house physician and house surgeon at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, from 1926 to 1927, and then a house physician at the Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital, also in Sydney, until 1928.

In 1930, he was appointed to Central Middlesex in London, as assistant medical officer, at a time when the hospital was still a Poor Law institution. Together with other physicians, he helped upgrade the hospital to a modern teaching hospital. In 1942, he was appointed as a medical specialist and commander of the 151st East African General Hospital, becoming a colonel.

After the war, he returned to Central Middlesex, becoming a chief assistant to the gasto-enterological department in 1946. In 1949 he was appointed as a consultant physician to the geriatric department. He later became the first director of the department.

His interests included stamp collecting, poetry and Latin, and he was passionate about cricket. He married Beatrice in 1934, and they had a son and two daughters.

RCP editor

[Brit.med.J.,1999,318,673]

Born in Cairns, Anthony Abdullah’s early educated was at Nudgee College in Brisbane. In those days no railway linked north Queensland to the state capital – he travelled to school on a cargo steamer, a voyage of some three weeks, returning home only once a year. After an initial year at Queensland University he moved to New South Wales, qualifying in 1926 from Sydney University. For the next two years he held appointments in that city’s St Vincent’s Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, before leaving for London, where he arrived in August 1928.

Along with other Australian colleagues at the time, he had come to the UK in order to take his MRCP and was to spend a happy 18 months engaged in postgraduate work in a variety of London teaching hospitals. Via the ‘Aussie’ grapevine, he gravitated to the Central Middlesex Hospital, initially as a locum. Obtaining medical training posts in teaching hospitals was very difficult for overseas doctors before the war. But, fortunately for him and the Central Middlesex, he was appointed assistant medical officer there at £400 a year to a hospital which was until then a Poor Law institution for the ‘indigent sick’ of Willesden. He was the first medical man with an MRCP qualification to be on the staff. His duties included a good many pathology examinations, there being no pathology department at the time. His colleagues were later to include the surgeon Illtyd James, and the physicians Horace Joules [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.307] and Avery Jones, who helped to upgrade the Central to become a modern teaching hospital in association with the Middlesex. This had been helped by the Middlesex County Council, which had taken over the hospital in 1931 and had started a number of specialist departments, including geriatrics, of which he later became the first director.

In 1942 he was appointed as medical specialist and commander of the 151st East African General Hospital with the rank of major, ending the war as a full colonel. It was staffed by African medical orderlies, whom he learned to address in fluent Swahili. The hospital was located variously in Ceylon, Burma and was finally disbanded in Poona in 1946.

In his return to the Central he rapidly developed a modern geriatric service and helped to train many students and doctors for the growing needs of old people. In a 1957 report to the hospital management committee on the progress of the geriatric department he expressed concern about the need to approach the problem of the ageing and chronic sick from a preventive angle, in order to postpone the onset of ill health and infirmity and free up expensive hospital beds. He advocated continued employment beyond retirement age, albeit in lighter duties and for shorter working hours, in order to offset the sense of uselessness seen all too often in his patients. The elderly were further isolated by the increasing trend for children and grandchildren to move far away. He felt it was a short stop to mental apathy and self-neglect. Many of his 1957 suggestions were to become reality in later years, including the provision of special health clinics with physiotherapy and chiropody services, home physiotherapy, luncheon clubs and sheltered housing.

He retired just as great innovations in medical treatment in the shape of life support machines, scanners etc were coming into general use and he never ceased to marvel at all the ‘new tools’ as they became available to his successors.

He was an excellent Latin scholar and mathematician with a surprisingly good command of the French language. He had a great knowledge and love of English literature, poetry in particular. He collected stamps for most of his life and was a keen follower of many sports, both as a participant and spectator. Perhaps his greatest enthusiasm was for the game of cricket, above all the contest for the Ashes.

Keith Ball

(Volume XI, page web)

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