Lives of the fellows

Kenneth Arthur Newton

b.30 March 1922 d.5 October 2011
MB BS Lond(1945) MRCP(1949) DMR(1952) DMRT(1952) FFR(1955) FRCP(1967) FRCR(1975)

Ken Newton was an extraordinarily gifted cancer specialist at Westminster Hospital, London, during the second half of the twentieth century. He was born in Rawalpindi, in British-ruled India, the son of Arthur Newton, a colonel, and Violet Newton née Packwood. Educated at Bedford School, he won a Kitchener scholarship to study medicine at Guy`s Hospital. His first post was as a house physician to Sir Horace Evans [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.123] at the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital in Aylesbury.

From 1946 to 1949, he served as a surgeon lieutenant in the RNVR, an appropriate choice as his maternal grandfather was a naval officer. His posting was at Devonport where, though enjoying the work, he did not take kindly to naval discipline.

He then became a house physician at Whipps Cross Hospital, London, and subsequently took a postgraduate course in medicine at Hammersmith Hospital. In 1950, he was appointed as a junior registrar to the department of radiotherapy at the Westminster Hospital, where he stayed for further training and for the rest of his clinical career.

His approach to the management of cancer was strongly influenced by the eminent Westminster Hospital surgeon, Sir Stanford Cade [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.79], who was a pioneer in the multidisciplinary management of malignant disease. Sir Stanford sent Ken, at that time a senior registrar, to the United States in 1955 for three months where, in addition to radiotherapy, he studied the then new field of cancer chemotherapy. He was thus well equipped on his return to treat patients with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of each as best suited their needs. In this respect he anticipated by many years the now established specialty of clinical oncology.

On appointment to the consultant staff in 1956, he naturally took his place in the multidisciplinary Westminster team shown at its best at the internationally-famous Wednesday afternoon clinics where general and specialist surgeons, radiotherapists and pathologists each provided their expertise in the patients’ best interests. Also in regular attendance were staff from the nearby Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital. Ken was duly appointed as an honorary civilian consultant to the Army and to the Royal Air Force. On Cade’s retirement in 1960, he automatically assumed the chair of these clinics until his retirement in 1985.

He was an innovative radiotherapist, exploring from 1950 onwards the potential of the then new Van de Graaf generator, one of the first supervoltage X-ray machines to be installed in the UK. In collaboration with his physicist colleagues, he explored dose escalation and complex field designs particularly in bone and soft tissue tumours. He also studied new techniques for rotational treatment with the cobalt 60 mobaltron to treat asymmetric contours at often difficult tumour sites. This work anticipated the subsequent sophisticated computer-aided conformal and intensity modulated planning systems now practised. He was the driving force behind the Westminster Hospital linear accelerator appeal which raised close to £1.5 million.

Kenneth was one of the first in his field to recognise the importance of the combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in cancer management and this vision inspired the appointment at Westminster Hospital of Spyros Retsas, the first medical oncologist to a radiotherapy department in the UK.

His publications covered a range of cancer topics, including, well ahead of its general adoption, autologous bone marrow transplantation for patients treated to aplasia by wide radiation fields or high dose cytotoxic therapy.

He was a first class departmental administrator and a caring mentor to generations of trainees in cancer medicine. Handsome, modest and courteous, he won the loyalty and affection of his patients and his colleagues. He was an erudite, meticulous and extraordinarily wise clinician. He had the disconcerting knack of eliciting physical signs which his colleagues had missed.

Notwithstanding a long and arduous clinical day, he lived a full life outside medicine. He relished country pursuits including one- and three-day horse eventing, bird watching and his garden. Above all, he was devoted to his wife, Joy, and his family of three daughters, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, with whom he enjoyed a long and happy retirement. Sadly, he did not live to see a grandson appointed as a consultant in anaesthesia.

Gerald Westbury
Robert H Phillips

(Volume XII, page web)

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