Lives of the fellows

Frank Robertson

b.3 November 1915 d.20 October 2008
MB BS Durham(1938) MD(1940) MRCP(1946) FRCP(1968)

Frank Robertson was a consultant physician in Durham, one of those truly general physicians whose contribution was so vital to the successful launch of the NHS. He was born in Sunderland, the son of Harold Robertson, a brass and aluminium founder, and Jessie née Robertson, the daughter of a marine engineer. He was educated at Bede Grammar School, Sunderland, and then went on to study medicine at Durham and the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle.

After qualifying, he spent some time as a general practitioner in Washington, County Durham, where his services were highly valued, but then returned to his teaching hospital to train as a physician. He rapidly rose to become first assistant to the professor of medicine at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, during which time he carried out important work on the use of penicillin in sub-acute bacterial endocarditis and streptomycin in TB meningitis.

During the Second World War he attained the rank of major in the RAMC and carried out important work on behalf of the MRC on blood loss and replacement, both in North Africa and Italy.

The coming of the NHS heralded the growth of district general hospitals and, in 1949, he was appointed as the first consultant at Bishop Auckland General Hospital, which was then a combination of old workhouse buildings and ‘temporary’ accommodation for wounded war prisoners. Initially he only had three medical beds, but he rapidly developed a thriving medical unit. His capacity for hard work was prodigious – it was seven years after his appointment as a consultant before he took a holiday. Thereafter he limited himself to about two weeks per year.

With the advent of formal postgraduate medical education, he was appointed the first clinical tutor for south west Durham, a post he held until his retirement. He was a very gifted teacher of medical students and junior doctors. He became an effective chairman of the National Association of Clinical Tutors.

He was the sort of doctor to whom others turned when they or their family were ill. At the time of his retirement he was looking after some 200 of his fellow practitioners. He was a founder member and chairman of the local branch of the British Heart Foundation.

Outside medicine, he became a district commissioner for the Scout Movement and a trustee of Aycliffe School.

In 1947 he married Jean, herself a doctor, who subordinated her own career to loyally support him. In later life, he amply repaid this by devotedly caring for her when illness diminished the quality of her later years. He leaves a son (Ian) and two daughters.

Colin Waine

[Brit.med.J.,2009, 338, 471]

(Volume XII, page web)

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