b.24 October 1903 d.3 September 1980
Life Peer(1965) Kt(1954) MB BS Lond(1927) FRCS(1929) MS(1931) FRCP*(1965) Hon FACS(1949) Hon FRACS(1957) Hon LLD Leeds(1965) Hon ScD Cantab(1968) Hon FDS RCS(1969)†
Russell Brock, the son of Herbert Brock, a professional photographer, and his wife Elvina Carmen, was born in London. As a small boy he was sent to Christ’s Hospital School, leaving in 1921 at the age of 17 with an arts scholarship for entry to Guy’s Hospital Medical School. Here he won many prizes, and qualified as a doctor in 1927. The year before he qualified, Russell married Germaine Louise Ladevèze, a lady of Swiss origin, and by her he had three daughters. After Germaine died, Russell married Christine Jones, who had been his faithful secretary for many years.
Soon after qualifying, Russell embarked on a career in surgery and in 1928 became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. He soon devoted his interests to thoracic and cardiac surgery, and in 1929 was awarded a Rockefeller travelling fellowship which enabled him to work under the great thoracic surgeon, Evarts Graham in St Louis, Missouri.
After his return from America, he obtained the mastership of surgery of London University and became, in 1932, a registrar and tutor at Guy’s and a research fellow of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain. In 1935 he was appointed thoracic surgeon to London County Council and, in the same year, won the Jacksonian prize for his essay on new growths of the lung. In 1936, Russell Brock was appointed consultant surgeon to both Guy’s and the Brompton Hospital. In 1938, he became a Hunterian professor and in 1949 he was appointed a member of the council of the Royal College of Surgeons, serving as vice-president in 1956, having been knighted in 1954, and president from 1963 to 1966, becoming a Life Peer in 1965. In 1957 Russell had given the Bradshaw Lecture and in 1961 the Hunterian Oration.
In being invited to ‘prepare a short biography’ for Munk’s Roll, the author is provided with some details of the subject which may be referred to and which are entered by the subject himself. In Russell’s case, these are characteristically brief and to the point. For instance, under the heading ‘Principal publications, with dates’, he writes ‘Articles too numerous to give’! This brief observation is true, pungent and typical. He omits to mention the many articles which he wrote for the Guy’s Hospital Reports, of which he was editor for many years, and to which he gave a quality which assured the dispatch of this paper to most medical centres throughout the world. There are, however, four papers which he regards as worthy to be mentioned in Munk’s Roll: The Anatomy of the Bronchial Tree (1946); The Life and Work of Astley Cooper, (1952); Lung Abscess (1952); The Anatomy of Congenital Pulmonary Stenosis, (1957). These four papers are the results of careful investigation and are of outstanding value in the message which they convey.
As already mentioned, in February 1961, he delivered the Hunterian Oration. This was a contribution which illustrated vividly the breadth of Russell’s interests, for here, instead of the details of a technical analysis, we have a historical story which embraces not only Hunter, but references to Sir Astley Cooper, Lord Lister, Wood Jones, Grey Turner, Sir Charters Symonds and others. In his introduction to this oration, he writes ‘As my chief executive office in the College is chairman of the Museum and Research Committee, I intend to speak about the duty and policy of the College in regard to the Hunterian museum and to research. Both of these meet on the common ground of Hunter’s life; both are important in the life of the College now and in the future’. The last part of this now almost historic oration deals with policy in research and the laws against vivisection wherein he observes, ‘The scientific spirit engendered by Hunter continued into the early decades of the 19th century, but England was soon to lose her position in the van of surgical research as the development of surgery proceeded along more vocational lines. In contrast, tremendous advances were being made in physiology, chemistry, physics, pathology and other sciences ... this (contrast) was principally due to the restrictive legislation placed on animal experimentation by which medicine was placed in the absurd position of defending the labours necessary for its advancement.’
Finally, there is a section on ‘Research and Inspiration’ in which he says ‘The vocational and the scientific attitude can often be usefully combined, and some great advances have resulted from this. I suppose one of the most notable is that of the introduction of vaccination by Edward Jenner’.
Now perhaps we may pursue a more personal picture of Russell’s life. In some respects it is easy to speak about him because what is abundantly clear is that he was a man of absolute integrity, immense energy on behalf of his patients, and a thinly veiled concern and devotion to those who were under his care.
It is a truism that his determination was that only the very best was good enough for his patients, that the care of their lives and health was the essence of his happiness, and that nothing would allow him to accept anything but the maximum endeavour on their behalf; this was the star which he followed throughout his life.
Many will know of his great work in the operating theatre and the ward, of his teaching qualities, and the advances which must have saved many lives and alleviated so much misery and distress. Russell was revered by his colleagues and his students. To both he was an inspiring figure. This was due as much to his manner of address as to his position at the summit of the world of surgery. On the other hand, if anyone was in pain or trouble, the façade of sternness was discarded and, in its place, stood a man of infinite kindness who could give consolation and advice, and whose very presence and attention were healing.
One, who worked for him many years ago, wrote ‘He was immensely considerate, kind and polite to every patient and we learnt a lot from him, not only the principles of surgery, but also how to be ‘a doctor’ - the title by which he invariably addressed the most junior students at the bedside’.
It was, however, with his work at Guy’s Hospital, as with his work at the Brompton, that he helped to build a reputation which made these hospitals a pillar of thoracic surgery throughout the world. Of his hobbies, little was known, but in his entry in Who's Who it was revealed that these were ‘writing, reading, antiquities and the topography of London’, to which might be added - history, bibliography and gardening. Russell’s interest in so many spheres, and his wide knowledge, made him a most interesting and delightful person to talk to. For instance, he was responsible for renovating the old operating theatre in St Thomas’ Street shared by St Thomas’ Hospital and Guy’s, where Sir Astley Cooper operates; a historic memorial to surgery in the eighteenth century which is on view to those interested.
If this picture of his character so far has seemed only one of grave study, reading and work, I am sure he would wish it to be mentioned that he was, in his early days, a long-distance runner. Those who knew him will continue to think of him with affection and respect and many will thank him in their hearts and minds for the care which he took of them.
Sir Hedley Atkins
* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."
† The list of honorary degrees is too lengthy to include in entirety.
[Brit.med.J., 1980, 281, 814, 952, 1013; Lancet, 1981, 2, 600; Times, 5 Sept 1980]
(Volume VII, page 62)
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