Lives of the fellows

Richard Leslie Woodhead

b.5 November 1941 d.7 November 2009
BA Oxon(1963) BM BCh(1966) MA(1966) MRCP(1969) FRCP(1984)

Richard Woodhead, known as ‘Dick’, was for 23 years a consultant physician in Bradford, esteemed and valued throughout the city, especially for his expertise in general medicine. He was born in Leeds, the son of Leslie Woodhead, a company director, and attended Leeds Grammar School, where he was awarded a state scholarship and a Hastings scholarship to Queen’s College, Oxford.

At Oxford, he obtained his first degree with first class honours in physiology. He did his clinical training at University College Hospital, London, where he was a house officer after qualification. Posts at the Brompton and Hammersmith hospitals and Leeds General Infirmary followed, before his appointment in 1975 as a consultant physician (with special responsibility for acute poisoning) in Bradford.

All his work was characterised by his conscientious skill. His busy clinics and the frequency with which medical colleagues consulted him about their own illnesses, attest to this. General physicians, who can help the many patients whose problems do not fit neatly into a sub-specialty, are becoming rarer. Dick was one of the last of these. His retirement in 1997 left an unfilled gap for general practitioners and hospital colleagues.

His heavy clinical load did not stop him shouldering administrative burdens in Bradford. He was secretary of the local medico-chirurgical society, treasurer and then president of the medico-legal club, and chairman of the medical division.

After he retired he had time for his many interests. He and his wife, Gill, walked extensively in the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands.

His intellectual interests were varied. He derived much pleasure from classical music and he had a voracious appetite for the great literature of the world. There seemed to be little that he had not read. In 2001 his lifelong interest in Robert Louis Stevenson culminated in the publication of his novel, The strange case of R L Stevenson (Edinburgh, Luath). This dealt with Stevenson’s contact with five different doctors and, though fictional, it was based on the most thorough research into Stevenson’s life. He advanced the very plausible suggestion that his frequent haemoptysis was caused by bronchiectasis, not tuberculosis. The book had brilliant reviews in several journals and this was justified, because his delightful writing style made it a real ‘page-turner’.

In March 2008 an aggressive acute leukaemia was discovered and he stoically endured the initial intensive chemotherapy. He was always known for his modesty and integrity, but now his quiet, practical courage came to the fore. He rejected the standard follow-up regime, accepting only a brief period of milder chemotherapy and supportive treatment. With this regime, and Gill’s devoted support, he survived for another year and a half with a life of good quality. Initially he and Gill were able to continue their walks and he was still able to enjoy his intellectual pursuits until close to the end of his life. He also lived to see his first grandchild. Thus, quite remarkably, he showed that the wisdom which he so freely gave to others, he could draw on for himself.

Typically he organised his own terminal care, his funeral, at which he forbade any eulogies, and the necessary posthumous arrangements. His wife, Gill, his sons, Robin and Tim, and his grandson, Charley, survive him.

Allen Shaw

(Volume XII, page web)

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