Lives of the fellows

Edward Bancroft Jarrett

b.8 January 1916 d.8 January 2009
BA Cantab(1937) MRCS LRCP(1941) MB BChir(1942) MRCP(1944) MD(1947) FRCP(1964)

Edward Jarrett was consultant physician in West Dorset and will be remembered for the fortitude with which he surmounted two serious illnesses that bedevilled his career and his retirement. He was born and brought up in Barnet, London, the son of Evan Trenchard Jarrett, who was a successful merchant in the City, and Edith Maud née Bancroft. He was educated at Shrewsbury School and Caius College, Cambridge, where he excelled at golf and won an exhibition to St George’s Hospital, but in his last week at Cambridge in 1937 he contracted severe poliomyelitis. Instead of walking the wards, he found himself a patient at St George’s for two years. He was given a poor prognosis, but thanks to his courage and zest for life he recovered sufficiently to resume his medical studies in 1939. He recalled how he used to be pushed by several pretty nurses to Hyde Park, holding up the traffic during the passage across Knightsbridge.

He qualified in 1941 and, unfit for active service, was house physician at St George’s during the Blitz. During air raids staff and patients took refuge in the cellars, and Edward, with complete paralysis of one leg and dependent on crutches, was usually last to reach safety. Many clinics had to be held underground. He passed the MRCP in 1944 while he was a medical registrar at the Brompton Hospital and, after the war, he became medical first assistant and resident medical officer at St George’s Hospital. He gained his MD in 1947, writing a thesis on prognosis in diabetic coma (which interestingly made no mention of blood electrolytes).

Initially he envisaged a consultant post in a teaching hospital, but his disability, combined with the post war competition for London jobs and his love of the countryside, led to a change of heart and to his appointment, in 1950, as the first consultant physician in West Dorset, based at a small hospital in Dorchester. Still a bachelor, he took rooms at the Kings Arms Hotel, where he lived for six years until he met his wife, Rosanne Fowler.

The medical services in West Dorset were archaic and based on several small hospitals run by general practitioners. There were few ancillary services such as dieticians, cardiographers or physiotherapists. Edward had to overcome the prejudice of GPs who were jealous of their hospital rights and for 18 years he worked practically single handed, with no support from the Regional Hospital Board who were preoccupied with the future medical school in Southampton. The much-vaunted district general hospital in Dorchester would not materialise for another 40 years. But he recognised the advantage of small units where everyone knew each other and, with his energy and innate charm, he slowly gained the respect and support he needed to move things forward. He firmly believed that to run efficiently the NHS required 50 per cent hard work and 50 per cent goodwill.

The hours were long, with little free time even at weekends, and he travelled long distances in his Jaguar cars specially adapted for his weak leg, visiting outlying hospitals and fulfilling requests for domiciliary visits, a demanding task for someone wearing a heavy iron calliper and carrying an ECG machine. A general physician in the fullest sense, he had a special interest in diabetes and developed a fine diabetic service. The 1950s were exciting years, with the discovery of several effective remedies and improved laboratory techniques.

He was a founder member of the Wessex Physicians’ Club and its second chairman from 1955 to 1959, a singular honour in the days before subspecialisation undermined its prestige. The biannual meetings of its 40 members were always fully attended. He also served on the standing committee of members of the College until his election to the fellowship in 1964.

In 1967, he fractured his femur. This was fixed with a plate, but his convalescence was prolonged by chronic infection due to a retained swab and more than a year passed before he could resume work. This setback meant he could not continue on his own and finally his workload was eased by the acquisition of two new colleagues. He made them particularly welcome and instituted his famous Friday lunches at his thatched cottage. Here the three physicians could discuss plans, problems and personalities amicably among themselves, which he recognised as essential for a contented and united department.

After his polio, he had to give up golf, but enjoyed swimming and sailing. He owned an X One Design yacht, which he raced with his brother, Dick, a physician in Gloucester, and for many years they took part in Cowes Week. He was also a great naturalist and created the most beautiful garden, delighting in the birds that were attracted to it.

He was retired by the NHS, as he put it, in 1981 and looked forward with his wife to some serious ornithology and exploring rural Tuscany and Provence, but two years later developed acute nephritis. This responded partially to treatment, but after a partial nephrectomy for carcinoma severe renal failure ensued and in 1999, aged 83, he began regular haemodialysis. He accepted this further restriction to his enjoyment of life with remarkable equanimity and was never heard to complain. Throughout his illness he was cared for by his beloved wife Rosanne, who was devoted to him. He died after 10 years on dialysis on his 93rd birthday.

Edward Jarrett was tall and extremely good looking and had enormous presence. His charisma, combined with a natural humility, endeared him to all who met him and his patients felt reassured simply in the knowledge that they were under his care.

Peter Down

[Brit.med.J.,2009 338 1796]

(Volume XII, page web)

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