Lives of the fellows

Marion Hildick-Smith

b.22 April 1928 d.4 September 2010
CBE MB BChir Cantab(1954) MRCP(1957) MD(1977) FRCP(1979)

Marion Hildick-Smith née Cornelius was a consultant in geriatric medicine in Canterbury, Kent. A warm and caring person, she dramatically improved local services for the elderly and also made an impact internationally. Born in Swansea, her father, David, was the chief of a steel mill. Educated at the Swansea High School for Girls, she won an exhibition to read maths at Oxford but chose instead to go to Cambridge and gained one of the only 16 places available to women at the time. At Newnham College, she eventually decided that medicine would suit her better and a transfer course was organised. She became one of the first women to train at St Thomas’ Hospital, qualifying in 1954.

After house jobs at St Thomas’, she moved to St Helier Hospital in Carshalton for two years from 1955 to 1957. Initially she was interested in chest medicine and was a part-time member of the London Pneumoconiosis Panel from 1963 to 1977. Later she became interested in neurology, working as clinical assistant in neurology at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital (KCH) from 1969 to 1971. On meeting Richard Stevens [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.548] at the KCH, she decided to specialise in geriatrics and trained with him as a registrar for 3 years until she was appointed a consultant in geriatric medicine in 1974.

At the KCH, having constantly stressed the importance of the discipline, she managed to get acute geriatric medicine established in the main hospital and a dedicated team of staff. This produced outstanding results in terms of patient assessment and improved care, particularly in her specialist interests of stroke and Parkinson’s disease.

She produced several important scientific papers and chapters in books and was on the editorial board of the journal Age and aging. A member of the Stroke Association and the Parkinson’s Disease Society, she continued to work for both after her retirement. She was treasurer and, later, president of the British Geriatrics Society, becoming the first woman to do so and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine. For services to medicine, she was awarded a CBE.

At Cambridge she gained a half-blue for squash in 1949. She was a talented pianist and, after retirement, obtained a degree in English through the Open University.

In 1954 she married Walter John Ryvet (‘John’) Hildick-Smith, whose father, Brigadier Norman Ryvet Hildick-Smith was a brigadier in the Indian Army. He became a school master in Canterbury. She was devastated when he died unexpectedly in 1987 and a daughter, Helen Jane, also died young. All four of their surviving children qualified in medicine in different specialties: David was a GP, Bryony, a cardiologist, Philippa, a paediatrician and Kathleen Wendy (‘Wendy’) followed her mother into geriatrics. Her health gradually failed her and she developed giant cell arteritis, intermittent depression, and chronic lymphatic leukaemia, bearing it all with great stoicism. When she died, she was survived by her four children and 12 grandchildren.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2011 342 1174; British Geriatrics Society – both accessed 26 June 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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