Lives of the fellows

Peter Michael Stephen Gillam

b.2 December 1930 d.27 July 2008
BA Cantab(1951) MB BChir(1955) DObst(1957) MRCP(1960) MD(1967) FRCP(1974)

Peter Gillam was widely recognised as being an exceptional doctor and the epitome of the general physician, serving as a consultant physician in Salisbury from 1967 to 1993. He was born in Bungay, Suffolk, the son of Geoffrey Gerrard Gillam, a medical practitioner [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.196], and Mary Frances Oldaker née Davies. Peter was from a long line of doctors, the sixth generation of his family to study medicine. He was educated at Gresham’s School in Norfolk. He then gained a scholarship to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, in 1949, before spending his clinical years at University College Hospital (UCH) in London.

After qualifying, he was a houseman at UCH for 18 months, before undertaking his National Service with the Royal Artillery at Oswestry. He returned to civilian life as a medical registrar at UCH, followed by a post at Hammersmith Hospital, and then went back to UCH as a senior registrar to Lord Max Rosenheim [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.394]. With Brian Prichard [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], he produced two seminal papers (in 1964 and 1969), describing for the first time the treatment of hypertension with the beta blocker propranolol (Br Med J. 1964 Sep 19;2[5411]:725-7; Br Med J. 1969 Jan 4;1[5635]:7-16). These papers were so important to the medical community that they appeared (in fourth and eighth place) in a list of the 50 most-cited BMJ articles between 1945 and 1989.

In 1967, he was appointed as a consultant physician in Salisbury, where he soon established himself as a provider of excellent clinical opinions, both for hospital colleagues and for GPs in patients’ homes. He set up new services, including a coronary care unit, a day diagnostic unit and a bronchoscopy service, before turning his attention to the formation of a highly regarded hospice. He was a clinical tutor locally and later RCP regional adviser for Wessex, as well as being involved in the setting up of Southampton Medical School. He was an inspiring teacher, and will be remembered with gratitude and affection by those who were lucky enough to have been taught by him.

He went on to chair numerous hospital and regional committees, working on the principle that if you are going to be on a committee you might as well chair it. Peter’s capacity for hard work was legendary, often performing domiciliary visits late in the evenings and invariably seeing his patients in the hospital at weekends. Somehow he also found time to initiate and then edit the Salisbury Medical Bulletin, chair the Salisbury Medical Society and the Wessex Physicians Club, as well as develop the Salisbury Hospitals Trust. His outstanding contribution to the hospice was recognised by the naming of the day centre after him.

Following his retirement, Peter pursued his love of bird-watching and fishing, whilst remaining active for many years on regional appointments committees and the hospice trust board.

Less tangible, but in some ways more important than his notable achievements in improving patient care, was his astonishingly positive effect on the spirit of all who worked in the hospital, including the nursing staff. He inspired everybody by his own example to work beyond the call of duty. He brought about widespread recognition of Salisbury as being more than just an ordinary small district general hospital, but as an attractive place to obtain good training if you were a trainee doctor, and to work if you were looking for a consultant post. Thus the quality of the medical staff was strengthened, and this in turn raised standards of care in all spheres.

Life with Peter was full of laughter and great fun. He was prone to gently mocking whoever or whatever was under discussion. Yet he was self-deprecating, and remained humble and free of pomposity. He participated in, and usually led vigorously, all sporting activities and the hospital pantomime, and was invariably the first on, and the last to leave, the dance floor. He was the first port of call for patients, staff and colleagues needing advice and help, being blessed with a completely disarming grin, coupled with ease of approach and profound wisdom.

He met Anne Mary O’Brien-Bell, the daughter of a doctor, while he was at UCH. They married in 1954 and had four children, Stephen (a fellow of the RCP), David, Emma and James, and 10 grandchildren.

James Marigold

[ 2008 337 2603; Salisbury Medical Bulletin No 50, January 1984, pp.863-864;’The “top 50”: a perspective on the BMJ drawn from the Science Citation Index’ Bernard Dixon – accessed 14 February 2011]

(Volume XII, page web)

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