Lives of the fellows

Derek Herbert Isaac

b.3 July 1923 d.1 January 2009
MRCS LRCP(1946) MB BS Lond(1946) MD(1951) MRCP(1952) FRCP(1972)

Derek Herbert Isaac was a physician of high standards who saw the birth of the NHS and who strongly supported its principles and nurtured its growth and development at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, particularly in the field of cardiology. He was born in Slough, Buckinghamshire, the second son of Herbert George Isaac, a personnel officer, and Julienne Geneviève née Hattenberger. He was educated at Felsted School in Essex and then went on to study medicine at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, qualifying at the age of 23. He held hospital posts in Greenwich, Weymouth, Sheffield, Plymouth and Bristol.

In 1959 he was appointed as a consultant physician at Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, where he stayed until his retirement in 1983. Here he established himself as a general physician of note who was uncompromising in pressing for the highest standards of patient care. He set up the heart unit at Musgrove, overseeing its development through a period when knowledge in this field was rapidly expanding. He was instrumental in the introduction of the first pacemakers at Musgrove and in the vanguard of their use in the region. He informally claimed the first successful treatment of Q fever endocarditis, for which he could find no other cure on record.

He was an avid supporter of the NHS and believed that it suffered when doctors earned a disproportionate amount of income from their involvement in private practice. He held senior administrative posts, chairing the hospital management committee for a number of years.

He was also renowned for his wicked sense of humour, and held a reputation as an entertaining after-dinner speaker. He habitually showed regard for friends and colleagues by being rude to them, which could be upsetting for those who did not know him well. He had an uncanny ability to exert a lot of influence by saying very little.

Derek retired at 60 and, although poor health limited the scope of his activities in later years, he maintained a keen interest in medicine, always challenging his son-in-law Tony and grand daughter Emma on their more modern approaches to medical problems.

Aside from his career, he loved nature and was an accomplished gardener and ornithologist. He loved to guide people around his garden and could name over 1,000 plants in Latin for their edification. Later in life, he took up woodcarving and produced a good body of sensitive works. His frieze of the ‘feeding of the 5,000’ can be seen hanging in village church at Dowlish Wake.

He is survived by his wife Jane née Rimmer, his two children, Sue and Tim, from his first marriage to Jean, and his grand children Emma, Sam and Tomas. He was an exacting person and enjoyed the good things in life, especially his food. During his last years he loved gathering for meals with his family, of whom he was very proud.

Tim Isaac

[Brit.med.J.,2009,338,1409]

(Volume XII, page web)

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