Lives of the fellows

Peter Carew Reynell

b.12 September 1917 d.27 June 2011
BM BCh Oxon(1942) MRCP(1947) DM(1951) FRCP(1962)

Peter Reynell served with distinction as a consultant cardiologist in Bradford, but also played a significant part in the worlds of academic medicine and regional and national medical administration. He was born in London, the first son of consultant psychiatrist Rupert Reynell [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.345] and his wife, Una Mary Shaw née Stewart, the daughter of a clergyman. His memories of his youth featured time spent at the family holiday home in Frinton and annual skiing holidays in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland. He went to Rugby School, before following in his father’s footsteps to Balliol College, Oxford. His greatest sporting achievement was to score a century at Lord’s for his school, but tennis was his strongest sporting suit (he gained a wartime half-blue).

After qualifying, he was appointed as a graduate assistant, and then a house physician, with Leslie John Witts [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.618], Nuffield professor of medicine at Oxford, before being called up. He spent four years in the Royal Army Medical Corps, mostly in North Africa and Italy. He described these years as having been often intensely boring and/or frustrating, but also ‘the most vivid period of my life’, full of experiences that he would never have had in other circumstances. This ended with a year in a Swiss sanatorium, recovering from tuberculosis.

He returned to Oxford and research into diseases of the liver. He was awarded a prestigious Rockefeller travelling fellowship in medicine and spent a year at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. This led to his contributing to the Harvey Tercentenary Congress at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Back in Oxford, he became a medical tutor while undertaking research into gastroenterology. With Sidney Truelove [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.582], he wrote Diseases of the digestive system (Oxford, Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1963], which became for a while the most popular gastroenterological textbook in the UK.

With increasing family responsibilities, he ‘wanted a decent salary and security of tenure and liked the idea of being my own boss’. In 1957 he was appointed as a consultant cardiologist at Bradford, despite having no experience of cardiology. A crash course at the National Heart Hospital ensued. These were the early days of cardiac surgery and of the development of specialist coronary care units. In addition to hands-on control of the unit, he undertook operational research, continuing to publish papers throughout his career.

When the divisional system was introduced to hospitals, he was asked to be the first chair of the local division of medicine, although he was technically the junior physician. He also played a part in the development of postgraduate medical education, becoming a tutor in Bradford and vice-chair of the National Association of Clinical Tutors. He was RCP regional adviser for the Leeds region and a member of the medical panel of the Joint Committee for Higher Medical Training, examiner for the MRCP exam, and external examiner at Manchester, Liverpool and Oxford.

Other regional and national roles included director of the Yorkshire Cancer Research Campaign, chair of the regional Distinction Awards Committee and general medical adviser to the chief medical officer at the Department of Health. His powerful intellect and commitment were widely valued.

He retired in 1982, intent on taking the opportunity to devote more time to his non-medical interests. A natural linguist, he led French and German conversation groups into his nineties, and listened daily to the lunchtime news in French. His experimental abstract photography was exhibited at Bradford’s Cartwright Hall, and he continued to experiment with digital photography. He was a member of the Bradford Athenaeum Club and presented papers on subjects ranging from ‘The prophet of Lambeth’ (William Blake) to the Holocaust (‘People like us’). Due to his own wartime experiences and having visited German cousins in the thirties, the rise of Third Reich continued to be an abiding subject of interest. With Julia, his wife of 59 years, he visited cultural sites across Europe, and he was knowledgeable about the visual arts and, as a listener, music. His range of knowledge and his clarity of memory and thought continued to astonish, although increasing deafness restricted social activity in his later years. He was survived by Julia, three sons and eight grandchildren.

Carew Reynell

[Brit.med.J., 2011 342 5640]

(Volume XII, page web)

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