Lives of the fellows

Patrick Desmond Mulcahy

b.1 March 1930 d.22 June 2007
MB BChir Cantab(1957) MRCP(1958) MD(1963) FRCP(1975)

Patrick Desmond Mulcahy, known as ‘Desmond’, was a consultant physician at Plymouth. Highly regarded by both his colleagues and patients, he was a doctor’s doctor, cool, efficient, smartly dressed and highly professional.

Born in Bristol, his Irish father, Patrick Joseph Mulcahy, worked as a doctor in the Colonial Service, where he met Desmond’s Scottish mother. Later his father worked in several general practices and while in Nottingham arranged for his son to enter Grace Dieu Prep School in Leicestershire and then it’s associated Roman Catholic public school, Ratcliffe College, together with his other son Brian. Desmond excelled in English, science and at games, especially rugby. He sang in the choir, loved music and became head boy.

He went on to Christ’s College, Cambridge, after an 18 month period in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as a National Service man, where he gained a commission. At Cambridge he read natural sciences, doing his tripos in two years and then had a third very enjoyable year studying archaeology and anthropology.

He moved to St Bartholomew’s Hospital for his clinical years, where he played rugby and wrote and performed in student revues. He was a bright medical student, winning the medical Brackenbury prize and joined the medical professorial unit under Eric (later Sir Eric) Scowen. He was on this unit for nine months and did only three months surgery, deciding he had no vocation in that discipline. He later moved to the children’s department under Sir Charles Harris [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.224], vice-chancellor of London University.

Leaving Bart’s, he went to the Brompton Hospital, where part of this period was spent at its Frimley branch, where he had time to study for the MRCP and passed at the first attempt whilst still a house physician. He then studied for his Cambridge MD in the pharmacology department at Bart’s, which he achieved after a year as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he did research into diabetes under Lukens, a colleague of Banting and Best.

Back at Bart’s, he was appointed lecturer, then senior lecturer and senior registrar on Sir Eric Scowen’s unit. However he did not believe he had an original mind, did not wish to be an academic and did not want to stay in London. He decided to apply for a consultancy in Plymouth and in 1968 was appointed consultant physician at Greenbank and the Royal Albert hospitals. He also had clinics in outlying hospitals in Liskeard, Saltash and Kingsbridge, which he particularly enjoyed. Initially he was responsible for endocrinology, diabetes, cardiology, leukaemias and rheumatology. Those were the days before specialisation but it was a severe workload that could only be spread years later as more ‘physicians with special interests’ were appointed.

Desmond felt the Health Service had passed its better days and retired in 1990, although he continued to do some private work and locums until he was 70.

In 1960 Desmond married a Bart’s staff-nurse, Jill Lloyd Williamson, whose father worked as both a general and orthopaedic surgeon in Brighton and Hove. They loved Plymouth and grew to love Brittany when Brittany Ferries started their service to Roscoff. The Plymouth Medical Society was ‘twinned’ with La Societé Medicale de Finistère and great friendships grew from this association. They bought a small house in Sainte Marine and later a larger one across the estuary in Loctudy. This was to be a great source of happiness and a sanctuary during his final illness.

A daughter Victoria was born in 1963 and a son James in 1965. Victoria died when she was 41, leaving Desmond and Jill to bear most of the responsibility for the children Chiara and Joshua, as the children’s father was a leading Hong Kong businessman who had to travel internationally. This proved very rewarding and the academic successes of the children gave him much pleasure.

His last illness, a T-cell lymphoma, started in 2004 and despite excellent treatment at St Thomas’ Hospital, improvements and remissions were brief. He showed exceptional courage and fortitude. He died at home with his family, nursed by his wife, after 47 years of a very happy marriage.

Jim Williamson

(Volume XII, page web)

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