Lives of the fellows

Martin Geoffrey Thorne

b.30 March 1922 d.15 February 2010
MB BCh Cantab(1945) MRCP(1949) MD(1953) FRCP(1969)

Martin Geoffrey Thorne, known as ‘Toby’, was a consultant physician at Torbay Hospital, Torquay, Devon, who contributed greatly to medicine in the south west. He was born in London. His father, Geoffrey, was a captain on the Orient Line and his mother, Mabel (née Dunlop), was Australian and a graduate of Sydney University. Toby was the third generation of his family to attend Felsted School, and in 1941 he went up to Clare College, Cambridge, where he took his first MB. He went on to Guy’s in 1943 preceded by his cousin, Miles Cross. In 1946, he married Dorothy Poole, a physiotherapist whom he met at Guy’s, and they had five children. Tragically, Dorothy drowned in an accident on holiday in Cornwall in 1954.

One of Toby’s early house surgeon appointments at Guy’s was to Sir Russell Brock, later Lord Brock [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VII, p.62]. Further appointments as registrar and senior registrar to Arthur Douthwaite [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VI, p.154], Sir John Conybeare [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VI, p.112] and Peter Bishop [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VII, p.48] followed. Guy’s in 1943 was frequently bombed, and Toby was among those students who often performed fire-watching duties on the roof. One of his memories of Guy’s was of its famous matron, Miss Emily MacManus, on her knees scrubbing blood-stained floors in the operating theatre, much to everyone’s consternation. National Service, from 1946 to 1948, was largely spent in France, where repatriation was taking place, and later he was posted to Algiers.

In 1953, Toby wrote his MD thesis on Cushing’s syndrome, and from 1954 to 1956 he was pre-clinical tutor at Guy’s, with beds at New Cross Hospital. His appointment as the first full-time physician to Torquay District Hospital (now the Torbay Hospital) saw him move to Torquay with his family in 1956. Toby married Margaret Harbison, who was nursing at Guy’s, in 1957 and they had four children, bringing the total to nine. During his time at Torbay the hospital was greatly expanded in line with the policy of developing district hospitals, the Torbay district comprised outlying small hospitals at Paignton, Brixham, Dartmouth, Totnes and Newton Abbot.

In 1960, the BMA met in Torquay to commemorate the 100th anniversary of their 1860 meeting in Torquay, and it was a special pleasure for Toby to welcome Arthur Douthwaite. Toby co-founded a charity in 1980 to raise money for a hydrotherapy pool. The Torbay Arthritis Project was also able to fund treatment rooms and later this facility led to the appointment of a rheumatologist. He sat on many committees, including a regional cardiac committee and an awards committee, and represented the Royal College of Physicians in the south west.

He was very active as a general physician and developed a particular interest in thoracic medicine. He was uncompromising about standards and, though always courteous, he could be fearsome, especially about smoking; he was a good diagnostician and was genuinely interested in his patients. Toby was as passionate about teaching as he was about his clinical work, and was highly respected by students and colleagues. In 1970, he started a special projects fund, later called the ‘Medical Research Fund’, the purpose of which was to enable junior staff and registrars to undertake research, and to encourage lectures and meetings at the medical centre. To date, the fund has raised £750,000.

Following his retirement in 1987, Toby was asked to start a charity with a group of friends to raise money for Torre Abbey, a 12th century monastic foundation in Torquay in need of restoration. The response locally was very enthusiastic, funds were raised, and a successful Heritage Lottery Fund application was launched. The restored abbey is now an educational centre, visitor attraction and events venue.

Another post-retirement role he threw himself into with customary relish was as the Devon representative of the National Art Collections Fund, helped and supported, as always, by Margaret. Playing golf, gardening and collecting 18th and 19th century watercolours also gave him great pleasure, as did his large family. He and Margaret were warm and generous hosts and Toby, who appreciated good wine and was an entertaining raconteur, loved gatherings of family and friends. They lived in and near Torquay until 2004, when they moved to Somerset to be nearer family. He is survived by Margaret and the children, Kate, Liz, Sarah, Rob, Anne, Jane, Ben, John and Will, 24 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Kate Thorne

[This is South Devon – accessed 21 December 2010]

(Volume XII, page web)

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