Lives of the fellows

Ernest John Wallace Gumpert

b.13 December 1934 d.28 April 2010
BChir Cantab(1960) MB(1961) MRCS LRCP(1961) MRCP(1967) FRCP(1979)

Ernest John Wallace Gumpert (‘Wally’) was a consultant clinical neurologist and neurophysiologist in Sheffield. Born in Sheffield, his father Traugott Ernest Gumpert was also a consultant physician [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.215]. He came from a medical family; his uncle was William Davidson Wallace [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.521], his mother was a medical practitioner, his brother James Robert Wallace Gumpert was a surgeon and his late sister was a nurse at Guy’s Hospital. Educated at the Ley’s School in Cambridge, he studied medicine at Queen’s College, Cambridge and Guy’s where he initially did house jobs. For a while he worked with a surgeon, Lord Brock [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.62], who had operated on him when he was 17, repairing a coarctation of the aorta with a prosthetic tube graft. A revolutionary operation at the time, Gumpert was to become Brock’s longest survivor.

After Guy’s he began to specialise in neurology and moved to the National Hospital in Queen Square as academic registrar. He then returned to Sheffield as Ryder Briggs research fellow and honorary senior registrar in neurology to the United Sheffield Hospitals. Eventually he was appointed consultant clinical neurologist and neurophysiologist, retiring in 1995.

In Sheffield he set up the department of clinical neurophysiology. He was also chairman of the Encephalography (EEG) and Clinical Neurophysiology Education Board Examination Committee and secretary of the EEG Society of Great Britain. An examiner for the Professional and Linguistics Assessment Board (PLAB), he was also on the appeals tribunal for wounded service personnel. He helped to set up the Sandygate Clinic (later the Claremont Hospital) which was run by the Sisters of Mercy. The clinic gave free treatment to those disabled by chronic neurological diseases and he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St Sylvester by Pope John Paul for this work.

With a thriving private practice, he was often consulted as an expert on the persistent vegetative state. He appeared on the television programme Panorama in a controversial broadcast which discussed the possibility of reversing post-traumatic brain damage. After the Hillsborough football disaster of 1989 he was greatly involved in the treatment of the victims.

Among many important scientific papers on neurology and electroencephalography, the seminal one was published jointly with Adrian Upton as ‘Encephalography in diagnosis of herpes-simplex encephalitis’ (Lancet, 1970, 1, 650-2).

He was a member of the Leander Rowing Club and enjoyed cricket and music.

In 1958 he married Joanna née Belsher, the daughter of Alfred, who was a solicitor. When he died, after a long and bravely born struggle with prostate cancer, Joanna survived him with their two sons, daughter and eight grandchildren.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2011 342 2678 - accessed 30 April 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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