Lives of the fellows

Peter Richards

b.25 May 1936 d.29 September 2011
BA Cantab(1957) MB BChir(1960) MRCP(1962) PhD(1966) MD(1971) FRCP(1976) FMedSci(1998)

Peter Richards was dean of St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London and president of Hughes Hall, Cambridge. The son of William Richards, a general practitioner in Ealing, he was educated at Monkton Combe School. He then studied medicine at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and at St George’s Hospital, London. He qualified in 1960.

He held house posts at St George’s, and then took a research registrar position in a neurological unit at Atkinson Morley’s Hospital, investigating the medical problems of neurosurgical patients. In 1963 he became a medical registrar to the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester, and after a year returned to St George’s. Between 1964 and 1967 he was at Hammersmith on a Medical Research Council research fellowship and completed his PhD on the cellular effects of aldosterone. He then went to St Mary’s, where he was a lecturer in medicine and subsequently a part-time honorary senior lecturer there and a consultant physician at St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey. In 1973 he was appointed as a senior lecturer and consultant physician to St George’s.

In 1979 he became dean of St Mary’s Hospital Medical School and professor of medicine. He was popular with students, but also demanding academically. He encouraged the BBC to follow a group of students in their studies and the result was the successful documentary Doctors to be. When it was decided that the London medical schools should merge, Peter was aware of the dangers to St Mary’s and worked carefully to get the best merger possible. He skilfully influenced Imperial College to form the Imperial College School of Medicine consisting of St Mary’s, Westminster and Charing Cross medical schools. He became a pro-rector of Imperial.

Following his retirement from St Mary’s, Richards was for a short time director of the Northwick Park Hospital. He was then elected president of Hughes Hall Cambridge. Here he raised money to open a new Fenner’s building and also achieved full college status.

Richards published many papers and books on a variety of medical topics, including Learning medicine (London, British Medical Association, 1983), now in its 18th edition and to be recommended to those wishing to study medicine and those already started. More recently, he wrote The Harvest of a quiet eye: observations about medicine, universities and life (Durham, Memoir Club, 2010).

He chaired the professional conduct committee of the General Medical Council and was chairman of the Council of Deans of UK Medical Schools and Facilities from 1994 to 1995. He was a member of the council of the RCP from 1994 to 1997.

Richards was an enigmatic man, who took some time to understand, but could show warmth beneath a strongly academic attitude to his work and also the work of the students. He had a popular student following, but on interview could be very searching of the student’s motives to study medicine. While he was dean of St Mary’s Hospital Medical School one quarter of students applying to study medicine listed St Mary’s as one of their choices. In the days of Lord Moran [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.407], an emphasis was placed on good rugby players. Peter changed this to a bias for those with musical talents, in addition to academic excellence. He was capable of ‘letting his hair down’, and appeared on stage in the Christmas soiree, much to the delight of the students.

Peter was married twice. He had a son (Allan) and three daughters (Marianne, Annette and Christina) by his first wife, Anne Marie Larsen, whom he married in 1959. He married a second time, to Carol Seymour, in 1987. He loved walking, listening to music and especially jazz.

Richards had a happy and successful life, socially, clinically and academically.

J Oscar Craig

[St Mary’s Gazette, v.99, no.3 (Oct 1993); The Telegraph 23 November 2011]

(Volume XII, page web)

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