Lives of the fellows

William Marshall Philip

b.6 January 1913 d.5 January 2007
MRCS LRCP(1936) MB BS Lond(1938) MRCP(1939) FRCP(1975)

William Marshall Philip, known as ‘Marsh’ to family and friends, was a consultant physician in Birmingham. He was born in London, the son of Scottish parents, who had moved from Aberdeen. His father, James Farquhar Philip, established a general practice in Ealing. Together with his elder sister, Veronica, Marsh had a happy middle class childhood. He went to Epsom College, where he showed an early interest in practical and scientific topics, but perhaps surprisingly took his Higher School Certificate in Latin and Greek. He won the Epsom scholarship to Guy’s Hospital in 1932, and had to undertake intense science studies before beginning his medicine. By his own admission, at Guy’s he was “rather indolent but had a good time”.

He recalled being attached to the medical firm of Sir Arthur Hurst [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.509], who was deaf and asthmatic. Sir Arthur had a modern (for those days) hearing aid about the size of a portable transistor radio. This was used to listen to patients, but was turned off when he had heard enough. Marsh saw him administering his own adrenaline subcutaneously before starting ward rounds. Based on his own experience, Sir Arthur also introduced the treatment of “a minim a minute of adrenaline” for severe asthma attacks. Marsh recalled that visiting consultants arrived in morning suits with a buttonhole in their lapels. He was brought up in an era of medical gentlemen with emotions held in check – a characteristic that he retained throughout his life.

He enjoyed sports, particularly tennis and golf. He met his future wife, Yolande Flew, in 1931, at a skating party on Richmond Ice Rink. He went on to complete house jobs and acquired the MRCP in 1939. Marsh and Yolande were married the day after the outbreak of the Second World War. He had a ‘lucky war’, serving as a medical officer at an RAF hospital in Morecambe, Lancashire, and, for the last few months of the war, in Allahabad, India.

After the war he returned to Guy’s for further medical training and competed along with a large pool of ex-servicemen for consultant posts. He eventually struck lucky in 1947 at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, where the senior physician was a Guy’s man. There was little freedom for the junior consultant physician at that time, but he gradually developed an interest in rheumatology in addition to acute medicine. He recalled walking down the hospital corridor one day when the senior surgeon emerged from theatre and summoned him: “Dr Philip, my anaesthetist is ill – be a good chap and give the anaesthetic for me.” And he did!

When Little Bromwich Fever Hospital was developed as East Birmingham General he became the first general physician, but retained his out-patient sessions at Selly Oak for rheumatology. He worked through a remarkable medical era with the introduction of antibiotics and effective treatment for raised blood pressure and heart disease.

He campaigned for all consultants to be eligible to undertake private practice if they wished, since this was initially restricted to those with an appointment to the teaching hospital. He continued a small private practice at home after retirement, where the consulting room was on the first floor. He always felt that the speed of ascent and the degree of dyspnoea on arrival of each patient were helpful diagnostic features.

He had many interests outside medicine: indeed his family commented that he rarely talked about medicine at home. He was a member of Edgbaston Golf Club for many years, and his plan to play golf on his ninetieth birthday was only frustrated by a heavy snowfall that morning. The family had a cottage near Ross-on-Wye as a base for trout fishing. He was always keen to know how things really worked and developed many engineering skills. He had a workshop with a metalwork lathe in the attic, and restored antique clocks and square pianos, researching the authentic materials and methods – the right strings, leather, felt, strings, glue – long before the modern fashion for ‘period’ instruments had developed.

He was a private person and rarely talked of anything with an emotional content, a common feature of his generation, but this apart he was a warm and open companion with a sharp sense of humour as his golfing and fishing partners would testify. He enjoyed a pint of beer at lunchtime into his nineties. When a fellow nonagenarian asked him, “Can you still cope with beer at lunchtime?”, he replied, “Cope? It’s essential!”

He was enormously proud of his sons Anthony and Robert and their many achievements, but of course this was rarely expressed openly. After his wife died in 1992, he remained in the family home. In 2004, after half a century in his Georgian house, and following the unexpected death of his housekeeper, he called it a day and moved to the local nursing home, where he remained the private, self-sufficient person that he had always been. He would, however, open up to medical visitors and talk about the changes in medicine that he had observed over more than 50 years. In his last year or two, despite his frailty, he always insisted on dressing smartly for the visits of his family, particularly his two granddaughters, Charlotte and Lara.

Robert N Allan

(Volume XII, page web)

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