Lives of the fellows

Richard Colin L’estrange Orme

b.6 February 1936 d.7 January 2012
BChir Cantab(1960) MB(1961) DCH(1966) MRCP(1967) MRCP Edin(1967) FRCP(1981) FRCPCH(1997)

Richard Colin L’Estrange Orme was a consultant paediatrician and senior lecturer in the postgraduate medical school of the University of Exeter. Besides helping to develop neonatal services in Devon, he made a number of significant research contributions on neonatal respiratory problems, intestinal perforation, haemorrhagic disease of the newborn and vitamin K, and on infant feeding. In 1976 he was one of the founder members of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine, later becoming an honorary member.

Richard came from a family with a strong medical background and Huguenot connections, of which he was proud. His father, Christopher Robert L’Estrange Orme, and both paternal grandparents, Albert L’Estrange Orme and Mary (Marie) Orme née Goodwin, were in the profession. His grandmother had qualified in Ireland at a time when medical schools in England did not accept female students. Richard’s mother was Muriel Evelyn Janet Orme née Thomson. He was born in Matlock, Derbyshire, some six weeks premature and the attending midwife and general practitioner struggled to get him to breathe. Eventually they placed a small Richard in a drawer and told his mother ‘you can feed him if you like’. This was, perhaps, an appropriate start in life for someone who was to go on to specialise in neonatology.

His early schooling was near home in Matlock and at 13 he went to Repton School, where he had an enjoyable and stimulating education without really excelling in any particular activity. He gained admittance to the medical school of Cambridge University in 1954 and was accepted by Sidney Sussex College, where he enjoyed his student days. He moved on to complete his clinical studies at King’s College Hospital in London in 1957.

After early junior doctor posts at King’s, he started training in paediatrics with a medical registrar post at the Middlesex Hospital in London from 1966 to 1968, from where he obtained the diploma in child health and the MRCP. He then took a senior registrar job between Exeter and Bristol from 1968 to 1973 and, while working in Bristol, he developed an academic interest in neonatology. He gained a Medical Research Council fellowship, which enabled him to research respiration of the newborn with June Brady in San Francisco. He worked in the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of California under Julius Comroe [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.105].

Almost immediately after returning to the UK he was appointed in 1973 as a consultant paediatrician to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and as a senior lecturer in child health at the University of Exeter Postgraduate Medical School. Here he thrived as a general paediatrician, and he was also increasingly involved in setting up a neonatal service and premature baby intensive care unit. He is remembered by his colleagues, patients and their families as a wise, cheerful and hugely committed figure with a gift for communication with young children, enhanced by his encyclopaedic knowledge and his ability to quote from A A Milne’s stories about Winnie the Pooh. As a colleague his abundance of tolerance, kindness and loyalty was complemented by his warmth, informality and his wit as a raconteur. He was well-known at the hospital for having clinics that over-ran. This was largely because of the time he spent getting to know the children in order to obtain their trust. He was often seen playing with them or chasing up and down the hospital corridors. Such behaviour was accepted by everyone, even if it meant nurses going home later than normal, in the interests of better health care for their patients.

His early commitment to the care of sick newborn babies was later superseded by demands for his expertise in the management and investigation of child maltreatment by parents, and he served as a valued member of local and regional committees and chaired enquiries. He also developed an interest in community paediatrics. He was fellow of the RCP and a founding fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. He examined for the membership examination of the RCP and also for the Royal Colleges in Scotland and Ireland. He was a guest lecturer at the University of Khartoum and also an examiner in paediatrics there. His international interests also involved the University of Rennes, as well as the French Club de Pediatrie, and he was a keen member of the University of Exeter’s twinning committee with the University of Rennes.

In retirement (post 1998) he enjoyed gardening, walking and travel. He was a loyal member of his local Anglican church and a school governor. However, his main energies went into becoming a tour guide, a member of Exeter’s famous Red Coats, which he enjoyed immensely. He took particular pleasure in developing and delivering tours of the city for children, as well as giving tours in French.

He died in his sleep at an Exeter hospice after a short illness. He was survived by his wife, Elizabeth (née Featherby), whom he married in 1971, and their two children, David and Jenny, as well as by two grandchildren (Olwen and Rufus).

Michael Orme

[Brit.med.J., 2012 344 2318]

(Volume XII, page web)

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