Lives of the fellows

Stuart Harvey Green

b.3 June 1939 d.21 November 2006
MRCS LRCP(1963) BChir Cantab(1963) MB(1964) MRCP(1967) FRCP(1983)

Stuart Green was a pioneering paediatric neurologist who was the founding father of this specialty in his adopted city of Birmingham. His ancestors came from Eastern Europe, but his chemist father, Harris Green, was already working in England when Stuart was born in Liverpool. After school at King George V Grammar, Southport, he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read natural sciences and then went to the Middlesex Hospital, London, to study clinical medicine. He held training posts at Hammersmith, Queen Square and Great Ormond Street. A Cadbury travelling fellowship enabled him to join Dave Clark’s neurology department at Lexington, Kentucky, a hotbed of first-class child neurology training. It was from there that he wrote his first paper on the neuro-ophthalmological findings in post-measles subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).

In 1972 he was appointed as a lecturer in paediatrics in Birmingham, but what he actually did was paediatric neurology, building up a new paediatric neurology department. He later became a senior lecturer. He worked all hours, and was renowned as an enthusiastic teacher: many of his disciples now run their own paediatric neurology departments all over the country and abroad.

He was among a group of paediatricians who founded what was to become the British Paediatric Neurology Association (BPNA). The organisation’s website gives a detailed history of the BPNA and Green is mentioned 11 times, including references to a piano recital his wife Margaret (Newman) gave at an annual meeting in 1982 (during heavy snow) and Stuart’s appointment as president in 1998.

Talking was one of his many talents and pleasures. A polyglot and a polymath, his range of conversational topics was by no means confined to medicine. He could find something interesting in everything and everyone. He was invited to lecture all over the world, and was a keen asker of questions at national and international meetings (he would say with a twinkle in his eye: “I always meet you at meetings – how do you get the time off?”). He was an inimitable story-teller and some of his stories are legendary, such as the case of the boy who played with his eyes. (This seven-year-old had been extensively investigated because of episodes in which his eyes moved to one side and then to the other. Stuart asked his mother to go outside and then elicited the boy’s secret: he had no friends, and gained the attention of his mother and doctors by deliberately ‘playing with his eyes’, consciously moving them from side to side.) This and other anecdotes are now to be found in the pages of the European Journal of Paediatric Neurology as ‘Stuart Green vignettes’, edited by Thierry Deonna (of Lausanne) and John Stephenson. These remind us that case histories may still be part of evidence-based medicine.

He was also a great listener: those he spoke to felt as though Stuart was interested in them alone. He was completely approachable: at meetings junior doctors would not be shy of coming up to Stuart to talk to him, to ask questions, or discuss a puzzling problem. If he had ever met them previously he would always address them by name.

”Come for a walk!” he would say when there was an interlude at a meeting and we would exchange anecdotes of child patients we had seen. “May I ask you about...?” he would say on the phone, usually very late. Somehow we always managed to discuss more patients of his than we did of mine.

He died soon after a left cerebral arterial ischaemic stroke destroyed his speech. His immediate burial and later memorial service were packed with hundreds of family members, friends, colleagues and admirers, stunned by the sudden loss. Once he had died, messages from colleagues worldwide confirmed that he was considered one of the brightest stars of paediatric neurology.

Soon after Birmingham lost its star paediatric neurologist, the city also lost its star paediatric neurosurgeon – Anthony Hockley. It seems appropriate to record here that these two outstanding children’s doctors – Stuart and Tony – were responsible for the pre-eminence of paediatric neuroscience in Birmingham.

Stuart was survived by his wife Margaret (Newman), the concert pianist, and their devoted sons, Mark and Ben.

John B P Stephenson

[The Guardian 4 April 2007; The Times 16 April 2007; 2007 334 591; Journal of Clinical Neurology Vol.22 No.5 663-665 (2007)]

(Volume XII, page web)

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