Lives of the fellows

Rasiah Somasundaram Thiagarajah

b.11 October 1938 d.25 September 2007
MB ChB Ceylon(1963) DCH(1970) MRCP(1974) FRCP(1994)

Rasiah Somasundaram Thiagarajah, or ‘Thia’ as he was universally known, was a consultant paediatrician in Wakefield and Pontefract. He was born in Jaffna, in what was then Ceylon, the son of Rasiah Somasundaram and his wife, Kamalambal Somasundaram. Thia was educated at St John’s College, Jaffna, and then went on to study medicine at the University of Ceylon in Colombo.

Between 1963 and 1971 he held junior posts in Ceylon, in paediatrics and cardiology. He then went to the UK, where he completed postgraduate training posts.

From 1974 to 1980, he was a consultant in general paediatrics in Colombo. At the height of the troubles in his homeland, he made the decision to return to the UK and retrain in community paediatrics.

He was appointed as a senior clinical medical officer (SCMO) in community paediatrics (a new post) in Pontefract in 1983, and was subsequently granted consultant status.

Thia developed community paediatrics in the area and quickly established services for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. These services were regarded as some of the best in the Yorkshire region, attracting referrals from outside his catchment population. He also took on the more contentious role as clinical lead in child protection.

His single mindedness, coupled with managerial skills, meant Thia was destined to become the first medical director of Wakefield Community Trust, where he was able to bring his great honesty, humour and integrity into championing the rights and welfare of disadvantage and disabled children and their families. He also encouraged the professional development of medical and non-medical staff under his wing. His department became one of the corner-stones of the Leeds specialist registrar rotation, and several of his protégés went on to become community paediatric consultants.

He was an enthusiastic participant in Tamil culture, and supported his old school in northern Sri Lanka, but he always regarded Castleford, Normanton and District Hospital as his ‘patch’. He was very proud when he and his wife, Susheila, a psychiatrist, were invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party, representing successful Commonwealth citizens in the UK. Always a very amiable and approachable colleague, latterly he developed a surprising interest in golf.

After retiring, Thia and Susheila moved to Hertfordshire to be near one of their two sons and his family, but regretfully his retirement was short lived and he died of lung cancer within a few years.

John M T Alexander

[Brit.med.J., 2007 335 1217]

(Volume XII, page web)

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