Lives of the fellows

Norman Stuart Clark

b.13 October 1912 d.4 December 2006
BSc Aberdeen(1933) MB ChB(1936) DCH(1939) 1MRCP(1945) MD(1955) MRCP Edin(1962) FRCP(1964)

Norman Clark was a reader in child health at the University of Aberdeen and consultant paediatrician to the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital. An Aberdonian, he was the son of James Clark, the chief clerk to the local customs and excise, and Helen Jane née Cruickshank. Norman was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and proceeded to the medical faculty at Aberdeen University. Following a distinguished undergraduate career, achieved despite devoting a considerable proportion of his time to fencing, he graduated in 1936, a year in which he was also a finalist in the Scottish Junior Sabre Championship.

Following house posts in the newly built Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Norman decided upon a consultant career, and made his way to London. After serving as house surgeon and house physician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, he was appointed resident medical officer at the Edgware General Hospital.

The further development of his medical career was interrupted by the outbreak of war, during which he served in the RAMC, initially in UK and then in India. His clinical and administrative skills were soon recognised, and Norman returned from India with a fine collection of photographs (photography was to be an abiding interest in his life), the MRCP diploma (the College had sent a team of examiners to India for the specific purpose of examining medical staff in the military) and the rank of lieutenant colonel (he had been officer-in-charge of the medical division, Combined Indian and British General Hospital).

After the war, Norman returned to Aberdeen as senior medical registrar at the Royal Aberdeen Hospital for Sick Children, and when the university established a new academic department of child health, he was appointed senior lecturer. Life was to be unexpectedly busy during his first year in this appointment – Aberdeen experienced a major outbreak of infantile gastro-enteritis, and although Norman was officially ‘on’ at the Children’s Hospital, much of his time was spent in the City Hospital ministering to these children. During this outbreak several babies hospitalised for other reasons contracted the disease from cross-infection, prompting the hospital board to build an infant unit complete with mother and baby rooms so that hospitalised infants would not be denied the protective effect of breast feeding. In 1964 he was again involved in an outbreak of infectious disease, when Aberdeen suffered a typhoid outbreak involving over 400 individuals – all from a single wholesale can of imported corned beef.

Norman was a man of infinite patience. When the present writer first worked in the Children’s Hospital in 1960, he was surprised to find that there was no out-patient appointments system, and indeed no recognisable records system. Notes were kept by the out-patient sister in shoe boxes obtained from the surgical bootmaker, and families simply turned up at any time of their choosing on the appointed morning. Their records were piled on the consultant’s desk, but however high the pile Norman invariably took a careful history and addressed each family’s concerns as if he had all the time in the world, and I do not recall ever hearing a voice raised in complaint. Norman played a major part in the design of the new hospital extension built a few years later, housing not only an expanded out-patient department but also a records department.

With the newly established records system, Norman developed a cardiac register and established a cardiac clinic, the first paediatric subspecialty clinic to be developed in Aberdeen. His patients had the benefit of Norman’s many London connections, and were sent for surgery to Great Ormond Street and the National Heart and Hammersmith hospitals.

Although apparently quiet and self-effacing, Norman Clark inspired the confidence of his colleagues and there were few committees or working parties that did not benefit from his wisdom. He had the misfortune to be chairman of the Regional Consultants and Specialists Committee in 1970 when Harold Wilson decided to reject the doctors’ triennial pay award and referred it to the Prices and Incomes Board. It took all of Norman’s inner steel and diplomatic skill to quell the resultant insurgency, especially amongst recently appointed consultants (including the present writer) who, thinking they had reached the end of the rainbow, were understandably angry that someone was trying to steal their pot of gold. Later in his career, at a time when the Children’s Hospital was under threat of closure, Norman used the platform provided by his presidential address to the Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society to mount a spirited defence of the need for an identifiable children’s facility in Aberdeen, and did much to rally support for our cause from the local medical establishment which had hitherto been indifferent to our plight.

Although Norman was in university employment, he devoted most of his working hours to clinical work, with responsibilities in general paediatrics, paediatric cardiology and infectious diseases, and for peripheral clinics in Shetland and Elgin. Nevertheless, he was no slouch in academic matters. He would probably have said that his most important work was on nephritis, to which he devoted much effort, burning the midnight oil to perform Addis counts on countless urine samples, resulting in a series of published papers and an MD thesis that was sustained with honours. However, that work was soon superseded by investigators using more modern laboratory methods, and his papers and chapters that are still widely cited are those on bronchiectasis, which were amongst the last to be written before measles and whooping cough immunisations led to the virtual disappearance of the condition from the childhood population.

A friendly and approachable man, Norman will be fondly remembered by many generations of junior doctors who benefited from his teaching, counsel and hospitality. He was never too busy to discuss a problem, whether clinical or personal, and he could be epitomised as a man with countless friends but no enemies.

In 1940, Norman married Constance Eames, a paediatric nurse. They had two sons (Alistair and Peter) and two daughters (Margaret and Rosemary), but although Norman was a committed family man, he found time not only for a busy and successful professional life, but also to indulge in numerous extracurricular activities. He maintained his interests in fencing and photography, and from time to time added additional pursuits such as Scottish country dancing. In the summer, he would sojourn in the New Forest, and when he retired Connie and he moved to Brockenhurst, where they had many happy years together, Connie predeceasing him by about a year.

George Russell

(Volume XII, page web)

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