Lives of the fellows

Celia Kathleen Westropp

b.3 November 1911 d.10 April 2006
BM BCh Oxon(1938) LMSSA(1938) MRCP(1941) DCH(1942) DM(1944) DPhysMed(1962) FRCP(1973)

Celia Westropp, a charming, compassionate and wise physician, was a consultant in Oxford and a fellow of Lady Margaret Hall. Her grandfather, Sir William Wilcocks, built the Aswan Dam, and her childhood was spent in the shadows of the Great Pyramids. She was sent to Downe House School near Newbury, but summer holidays in Egypt were idyllic, with much riding and dancing. She was an expert belly dancer. Her interest in medicine was fired by a childhood visit to a temporary hospital in the Cairo Citadel, where at the time of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign she was taken in a horse-drawn carriage to deliver flowers to the wounded soldiers.

She decided to read medicine at Oxford. At the entrance exams she was exempted from the divinity paper because she knew St Luke’s Gospel by heart, and won at place at Somerville. Celia was an identical twin, and her sister, Lena, was also at Oxford, reading PPE, so there were several opportunities for substitution. This was once tried out on the zoology tutor. In the anatomy school the class of six girls was separated from the boys, and taught by Alice Carleton on the top floor. Some clinical experience was gained ‘walking the wards’ at the Radcliffe, observing the different styles of Mallam, Hobson and later Cooke.

From Oxford, Celia moved to King’s College London, which was not especially welcoming to women and eventually she took up a post in venereology, where women were needed for the care of women. But the advent of the war, and the Blitz, led to better jobs in the Fulham Road.

Membership of the Royal College of Physicians in 1941 took her to Birmingham, to a final viva. With trepidation she entered the room. No questions were asked and the examiners rose to their feet as one, bowed, and she was dismissed as ‘top of the year’.

After the war she obtained the post of physiology tutor at Lady Margaret Hall. Here she was in charge of their science students and also oversaw the university’s women medical students. She had by that time picked up a DM for studies of carbohydrate metabolism in thyroid disease. She joined the new department of social medicine, working with Arthur Ryle and Alice Stewart, to study the effect of the exposure to X-rays during pregnancy on the growth rate of infants. It was also time to add a diploma of child health and to publish the results of an Oxford survey of breast-feeding.

In the following year Celia joined Lionel Cousins at Cowley Road Hospital, at a time he was establishing an international reputation for the organisation of geriatric services. She co-authored with Moyra Williams Health and happiness in old age (London, Metheun & Co., 1960).

She later took up an appointment as physician in charge at Rivermead Hospital and took a diploma in physical medicine. Here she pioneered the management of head injuries. Lionel Cousins had begun the quest to house the young disabled in accommodation that suited their needs. He left Celia in the driving seat. Twenty years later an Oxford Guidebook stated: ‘By 1963 the former isolation hospital emerged as one of the leading rehabilitation centres in the country. Its excellence stemmed from its modern methods and the expertise of its large staff, which more than compensated for its antiquated buildings. In recent years a fine range of purpose built facilities for physiotherapy, occupational and hydrotherapy and comprehensive workshops for rehabilitation have been added.’ Celia emphasised the value of a therapeutic team; a concept that was to evolve over the next few decades for many other disciplines. Recently the WHO has promoted the term ‘dishabilitation’ to describe the destitution of persons not supported by their community. The work of pioneers like Celia Westropp, who managed the psychological difficulties, as well as the physical problems, of a generation of people with motor bike head injuries has led to communities being much more welcoming to the young disabled. After retirement she provided medical supervision for an even younger age group of the mentally handicapped at Bradwell Grove, Burford.

In 1937 she married Francis Price, a fellow of Worcester College. They had four sons.

T Ryan

(Volume XII, page web)

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