Lives of the fellows

Annette Barbara Rawson

b.10 February 1930 d.12 December 2010
OBE(1990) MB BS Lond(1953) MRCS LRCP(1953) MRCP(1955) MFCM(1974) FRCP(1976) FFCM

Annette Barbara Rawson was a senior medical officer at the Department of Health. She studied medicine at a time when only 10% of medical students were female. At the age of 32, she was appointed a consultant physician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Birmingham but had to abandon her career almost immediately due to a debilitating neurological disease (Cogan syndrome) which left her completely deaf.

Born in Berlin, her father was Heinz Kurt Rosenkranz, an ear, nose and throat surgeon of Russian origin, and her mother, Katherina nee Ronietzny, was a radiologist. In 1935 her parents escaped Nazi Germany and settled in the UK. She attended St Paul’s Girls’ School and did brilliantly in her school certificate exams in spite of her mother’s premature death in 1945 while she was a teenager. At London University she studied medicine and trained at St Mary’s Hospital (SMH), Paddington where she did house jobs after qualification. In 1954 she worked at the Edgeware General Hospital and then the Central Middlesex, where she was inspired by Sir Francis Avery Jones [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] to specialise in gastroenterology.

She was appointed registrar and then, senior registrar at the QEH. Following that she returned to SMH as their first female registrar and quickly developed a reputation as an inspirational teacher. When she recovered from the illness that prevented her taking up her consultant post, she joined the staff of the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS), which was later the Department of Health (DOH). At the DHSS she took a lead role in the co-ordination of services and treatment for the disabled and particularly for the deaf. In 1973 she published a report Deafness: report of a departmental enquiry into the promotion of research (London, HMSO, 1973) which was afterwards held up as a shining example of how such investigations should be written up.

As a senior medical officer at the DOH, she needed to attend, and take part in, many conferences and meeting around the country. She became an expert lip-reader and used speech therapists to maintain her normal speaking voice. Often using the services of lipspeakers – she was the first to create an official lipspeaker post in government when she returned to work part-time after her official retirement – she did much to advance recognition and development of lipspeaking as a profession. Eventually she became a senior examiner of lipspeaking.

A founder member of the Faculty of Community Medicine (now the Faculty of Public Health) which was set up by the three Colleges of Physicians of the UK in 1972, she took a very active role promoting the faculty’s affairs.

She loved the visual arts, travelling and attending the theatre and ballet. At the theatre, it was said that she would sit in the front row with a script and watch the actors keenly for mistakes. A regular attender at Wimbledon, she was also a member of the National Trust and greatly enjoyed the events that they held in her region.

When she died, after several years of failing health and mobility, she had arranged for a Humanist funeral service and requested that it be held without music out of respect for her deafness.

RCP editor

[The Guardian – accessed 12 February 2011; Public Health Today June 2011 p.17]

(Volume XII, page web)

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