Lives of the fellows

Ian Ramsay Gray

b.3 October 1921 d.22 November 2005
MD Wisconsin(1943) MB BS Lond(1944) MRCP(1945) MD Lond(1949) FRCP(1964)

In 1955, when Ian Gray was appointed to Coventry as a consultant cardiologist, the city was still a major Midlands manufacturing centre. When he retired 31 years later the industrial base of the city had been decimated but the medical services had been transformed. During this period Ian, by his vision, influence and leadership, played a major part in this change and the present cardiac services for Coventry and the surrounding area are a legacy of his work.

Born of Scottish parents in Brechin, Angus, his father James Ramsay Gray was an industrial chemist. Ian was educated in London at Colfes Grammar School in Lewisham and then at University College Hospital. The award of a Rockefeller scholarship interrupted his training at UCH and he made a hazardous wartime journey to the United States, qualifying MD Wisconsin. On return to University College he obtained a London degree.

Following junior posts at Horton War Hospital, he joined the RAMC in 1945 and served as a graded physician in North Africa and Burma. Leaving the Army in 1948 he returned to University College Hospital, firstly as a medical registrar and then, in 1951, he was appointed to the sought-after post of resident assistant physician. He now had wide experience in general medicine, an interest he maintained throughout his working life, but he was committed to a career in cardiology. He furthered this over the next two years as a senior registrar at the National Heart Hospital, before his appointment in 1955 as a consultant physician and cardiologist to the ageing Coventry hospitals and the regional thoracic centre at the King Edward V11th Memorial Hospital near Warwick.

In 1969 Walsgrave Hospital, the first post-war hospital to be built in the west Midlands, was opened. Not without a struggle Ian, by his persistence and with the support of his colleagues, ensured that the new hospital contained a medical and surgical cardiac unit that could make the most of the rapid advances then occurring in that specialty and one that would meet the needs of the population of the eastern side of the west Midlands region. Over the years he did everything to ensure that the momentum for further development was maintained.

Until he was joined by Jeremy Pilcher [Munk's Roll, Vol. IX, p.416] he was the only cardiac specialist and as he also had commitments to general medicine he had a very heavy workload. He coped by being a very organized person. His clinical notes were legible, meticulously tidy and relevant, and were a great contrast to the notes of many of his colleagues, but they were a good reflection of his character.

Ian greatly influenced his junior staff both by his teaching and by his example. The combination of the high standards that he set himself and at times a rather austere manner at work meant that they made every effort to meet his approval. In later life they appreciated the training they had received and remembered him with great respect.

Throughout his career Ian continued to carry out research. He published many papers on cardiology topics. He was particularly interested in sub-acute bacterial endocarditis and published an important paper on the then contentious subject of the choice of antibiotics in the treatment of infective endocarditis. Well into retirement he was a very effective chairman of the busy local ethics committee.

Although a quiet and reserved person, Ian was recognised as a natural leader and a person of integrity and so not surprisingly he was influential, both locally and nationally. Good looking and with a habit of flicking his hair back when talking, he was always well dressed, with highly polished shoes, and he often wore a bow tie. He had a gravitas that meant people listened to what he said. He was helped by his incisive speech and his ability to present a report or a point of view clearly and concisely. It is not surprising that his services were in demand by a large number of organizations, including local and regional health authorities, the joint consultants committee, the central manpower committee and the council of the Cardiac Society. He was a past president of the West Midlands Physicians Association.

Ian's involvement with the College was very important to him. He enjoyed both the academic and social associations and he held his golden wedding celebration at the College. He was a councillor of the College and second vice-president, as well as serving on a number of committees.

It might be thought that Ian's commitment to work left him little time for anything else, but that would be a false impression for he had the happiest home life and very many outside interests. In 1951 after meeting her while she was a student on the firm of which he was the registrar he married Jean Annette (Jane) Leader, who later became a consultant psychiatrist. They had four daughters and, as his dogs were always bitches, his home environment was completely female dominated. His daughters claimed they had done a very agreeable job on him.

Even such a traditional person had his eccentricities. He embarrassed his children by always wearing full Scottish dress on the first but on no other day of their annual long summer holiday in Italy. Travel remained a lifelong interest and the purchase of the Old School House at Bodinick in Cornwall gave him a second home away from inland Warwickshire.

Music played a major part in his life, both as a listener and in playing the violin. He was a member of the Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra and the St Mewan Symphonia in Cornwall and, when one of his daughters was jilted, greatly moved and incapable of words, he took up his violin and played a lament. He was an avid reader. Sailing, walking and fishing were among his other hobbies.

The latter years of his retirement were clouded by increasingly disabling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but despite this, with the determination that had characterised his life, he followed his varied hobbies for as long as possible and he continued to enjoy the company of his 14 grandchildren.

To the outside world Ian showed seriousness, integrity and an ability to work hard. His wish to succeed brought him personal success, but also was of benefit to many of the individuals and professional bodies with whom he came into contact. But some saw the other more informal side of the warm family man with wide interests, great charm and many friends. Put together they made somebody who had not only a very fulfilling life but also a very happy one.

Howell Jones

(Volume XII, page web)

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