Lives of the fellows

Michael John Grayson

b.28 April 1929 d.12 May 2005
MB ChB Edin(1952) MRCP(1957) MD(1965) FRCP(1974)

Michael Grayson, a diligent and gifted clinician, played an important role in transforming and developing the remote hospital services in Plymouth into a regional centre for specialised care. The son of two primary school teachers, he was born in Knaresborough, Yorkshire. His childhood was spent in Montgomeryshire, Norfolk and Oxfordshire, before he returned to Yorkshire to complete his secondary education at Keighley Boys' Grammar School. In 1947 he entered medical school in Edinburgh, where he achieved both academic distinction and success on the sports field: he was a regular member of the university rugby team. Sadly his playing career came to an abrupt end when he injured his knee during a Scottish international trial match in 1951.

He graduated, with distinction, in 1952 and spent six months as Sir John Bruce's house surgeon, followed by six months as house physician to Sir Stanley Davidson [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.136]. Two years of National Service as a surgeon lieutenant in the Royal Navy took him to sea, at first on the survey ship HMS Cook and later on the destroyer HMS Saintes. Whenever his ships left the naval base at Devonport he used to notice the Royal Albert Hospital, which dominated the skyline adjacent to the Naval Dockyard.

A series of training posts in Bristol, Cambridge, Brighton and London gave him the broad clinical experience which was the foundation of his subsequent career as a general physician with a special interest in gastro-enterology. At the same time he conducted several research projects, mainly in ulcerative colitis. The University of Edinburgh awarded him the degree of MD with commendation, and King's College, London, presented him with the Sir Charles Briscoe research prize.

In 1966 he returned to Plymouth as a consultant, working in Devonport at the Royal Albert Hospital until 1981, when it transferred to Derriford to form the nucleus of what was to become, by the turn of the century, a major new teaching hospital. In addition to his busy clinical load as one of a team of six physicians providing general medical services to a catchment population of over 400,000 he worked tirelessly in collaboration with his surgical and radiological colleagues to build up specialized gastro-enterological services.

For almost 30 years his excellent clinical skills were in great demand in and around Plymouth. His opinion was frequently sought and always respected and his distinctive figure, with a rose in his buttonhole, a bow tie at his neck and a monocle in his hand could be seen dashing between the far-flung wards of the local hospitals. The more sensitive of his patients were sometimes taken aback by his direct approach, but they came to appreciate his blunt style and all were grateful for the tenacious way in which he went about reaching the correct diagnosis and the relentless manner in which he ensured that the most appropriate treatment was provided.

In addition to his busy clinical duties he had special responsibilities as physician to the local psychiatric hospital on the edge of Dartmoor and as director of occupational health. He also found time to contribute to several important hospital committees and his appointment for three years as chairman of the hospital medical staff committee was particularly successful.

His care for individuals extended beyond his patients to colleagues, especially to younger consultants and throughout the south west of England there were many who appreciated the skill with which he acted as an informal mentor in their formative years. He also had a perspicacious vision of the broader future. In 1971 he became secretary of the Plymouth Medical Society, which like several others had been founded many years earlier to provide a medical library and opportunities to discuss difficult cases after an evening meal. But as post-graduate education became more specialized and moved into normal working hours the society began to struggle to attract audiences. With others, he used his position on the council of the Medical Society to rejuvenate it so that it now facilitates the life of the wider medical community. It was fitting that in 1994, the 200th anniversary of its founding, he was elected to become the society's president.

Outside medicine he played a full part in society and for many years he was chairman of the board of governors of Sutton High School for Boys. He also organized a scheme in the local community involving schools and other voluntary groups, which ensured that the otherwise rather blank walls of a large modern hospital were enlivened by rotating exhibitions of works of art. He enjoyed country pursuits and, until increasing arthritis supervened, used to fish for trout and shoot pheasants.

After reaching the compulsory retiring age of the National Health Service he still devoted a large proportion of his time to medicine, developing a large medico-legal practice specialising in clinical negligence and industrial injuries such as vibration white finger and poisoning. He continued this work right up until his final illness.

He had three sons, the oldest of whom died in tragic circumstances, but any personal sadness never impinged upon the dignity or quality of his professional life. His first marriage ended in divorce, but in 1993 he married Maggie, with whom he enjoyed 12 obviously happy years which gave delight to his many friends.

K R Hunter

[Brit.med.J., 2005 331 458]

(Volume XII, page web)

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