Lives of the fellows

William Donald Wykeham Brooks

b.3 August 1905 d.28 May 1993
CBE(1956) BA Oxon(1928) MRCS LRCP(1930) MA BM BCh(1931) MRCP(1932) DM(1938) FRCP(1965)

Donald Brooks, whose father was headmaster of a school, was associated for all his professional life with St Mary’s Hospital, London, where he was a physician from 1935 to 1970. From 1938 he was also on the staff of the Brompton Hospital. He was born at Stourbridge in Staffordshire and died m his 89th year after retiring to Storrington in West Sussex. Starting a blue ribbon academic career from Reading School, he went as a White Scholar to St John’s College, Oxford, where he achieved a first class honour in physiology in his BA. As an undergraduate he also spent some time at the Strong Memorial Hospital, Rochester, NY, USA; this was an unusual excursion to make many years before students were encouraged to travel during their electives. From Oxford, Donald entered St Mary’s Hospital medical school as one of the new breed of university scholars selected by the dean, C M Wilson, later Lord Moran [Munks Roll, Vol.VII, p.407], on Rhodes scholarship criteria. Donald fulfilled the Rhodes criterion of involvement in ‘a manly outdoor sport’ through his ability as a cricketer playing for Berkshire and the Authentics; he also numbered golf and shooting among his recreations.

He obtained his Oxford degree in 1931, when he also won the top prize at St Mary’s - the Cheadle gold medal. On qualification he was appointed house physician to the medical unit, then headed by F S Langmead [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.273], and he continued in the unit as an assistant in the following year when he obtained his MRCP. He told how at this time he used to slip away to Horder’s rounds at Bart’s, later Lord Horder [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.198]. Charles Wilson found this out and taxed him with it; having heard his explanation, Wilson encouraged him to continue - saying that he would be wasting his time going to most of the rounds at St Mary’s. Also, expressing a personal antipathy which grew with the years, Wilson advised him to ‘sup with a long spoon’.

Recognition of excellence came with Donald’s election as Faraday Fellow in his old Oxford College, 1931-34, and in the award of a Rockefeller medical fellowship, 1932-33, when he worked at the University of Rochester, NY. During this time his interest centred on respiratory medicine and when he returned to London he won two appointments, first as medical registrar at St Mary’s, 1933-34, and then at the Brompton, 1935-37. From there he moved to appointments on the staff of both hospitals. As a young general physician specializing in chest diseases, Donald was a respected clinical opinion and a popular teacher. Handsome and with a good presence, he was always courteous to his patients, his students and the nursing staff. The precise use of English was something he enjoyed and this was apparent in his teaching and writing, and in his editorship of The Quarterly Journal of Medicine from 1946-67. He was sympathetic to the growth of academic medicine at St Mary’s and, with his background, might have followed that path had there been more opportunities available. As it was, he took great pride in the academic distinctions achieved by a number of his house physicians and registrars.

Donald's expertise in respiratory disease led to his involvement with the Navy when war broke out. He served from 1941-45 as a surgeon captain RNVR and as a consulting physician to the Royal Navy and the King Edward VII Convalescent Home for Officers until 1970. Tuberculosis was rife in the Navy during the war and Donald’s experience led him to write about it in medical journals and in the medical history of the war. He also contributed sections on chest wounds, respiratory diseases and tuberculosis, in editions of Conybeare’s textbook of Medicine between 1940-60.

Donald’s practice in Harley Street was considerable and was supplemented by his position as chief medical officer to the Eagle Star Insurance Company.

In his early years his interests were promoted in various ways by Charles Wilson. Donald was not uncritical of his controversial senior but gave him credit where he believed it was due. For his part, Wilson respected Donald’s abilities and during a visit to Moscow in 1941 left him in medical charge of Sir Winston Churchill to whom he recommended him as ‘the best of the younger generation’. Donald Brooks held his first office in the College as assistant registrar, 1946-49. He continued to contribute to College affairs as a censor in 1961 and 1962, and in 1965 when he was also senior vice-president. He gave the Goulstonian lecture in 1940 and the Marc Daniels lecture in 1957.

In 1934 Donald married Phyllis Juler whose father, Frank Anderson Juler, and grandfather, Henry Edward Juler, were ophthalmic surgeons at St Mary’s and Moorfields. They had two sons and two daughters. He retired to live in Sussex where he was captain of the West Sussex Golf Club in 1975, cultivated a delightful garden and became deeply interested in the hybridization of rhododendrons; his ambition was to breed a scented one. Phyllis died in 1988. In his remaining years, Donald felt well supported by visits from his children and grandchildren.

R R H Lovell

(Volume IX, page 57)

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