Lives of the fellows

Robert Basil Woodd-Walker

b.20 September 1933 d.15 Dec 2011
MB BChir Cantab(1959) MRCS LRCP(1960) DCH(1964) MRCP(1966) FRCP(1982) FRCPCH(1997)

Robert Basil Woodd-Walker, known as ‘Bob’, was a paediatrician in Colchester and Chelmsford, and the third generation of his family to serve in the medical profession. His father, Geoffrey Basil Woodd Walker, was a general surgeon. His grandfather, Basil Woodd Walker, gained an MD from Durham. Bob was educated at Rugby, Clare College, Cambridge, and then St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. He qualified in 1959.

After pre-registration jobs, Bob went to Bulawayo, in the then Rhodesia, to the new Mpilo Hospital. He returned to the UK, as a senior house officer in Chichester and a medical registrar in Barnet (also covering the children’s ward). He decided to specialise in paediatrics. He was a senior house officer at Hammersmith Hospital and then a registrar in Portsmouth.

Bob then travelled to Cape Town, South Africa, as a nutrition research fellow and a registrar at the Red Cross Hospital. He returned to the UK as a senior registrar in Birmingham and Wolverhampton. He was appointed as a consultant paediatrician in mid and north-east Essex in 1972, leaving his Chelmsford sessions in 1984.

Bob enjoyed a contented life as a bachelor, always resident in hospital until his consultant appointment, and then finding his first and only house in Colchester. Having only one colleague in each of his hospitals, Bob was on-call on alternate nights for 12 years, but found the restrictions not to be irksome and enjoyed the job.

At 45 he married, in his words: ‘the lovely Christine, for a happy 31 years, being blessed with two fine children’. Bob was well-read and widely travelled. His early expeditions included a university exploration society trip to Afghanistan in 1963 to collect anthropological blood samples and a trek by an unusual route from Dhankuta, Nepal, to Everest base camp with his registrar. He started his beard during a walk among the hill tribes in Thailand. His hair went white early and, blessed with good health, his appearance changed little for the rest of his life.

With only one fellow paediatric consultant Bob had to be a generalist, but his particular interest was in the interplay of social and emotional factors in a child’s symptomatology and management. Always self-deprecating, he was enormously reassured in his later years by the warm greetings he received in the street from grateful parents and unrecognisable ex-patients.

Bob had a wide circle of outside interests. He was the long-time secretary, then president, of the Colchester Medical Society, chairman of Colchester Colne Probus club and president of Mistley Book Club. He was an enthusiastic croquet player, beagler and bell ringer.

Most will remember him best for his keen analytical mind and his unnerving habit of seeing problems from a completely unexpected viewpoint. These characteristics were well-known to those who followed the reader’s letters in the local press. Members of the Mistley Book Club admired the skill revealed in the notes found inside the front cover of books Bob had read. A typical contribution said: ‘I did not find this an easy read. One suggestion might be to start at chapter 8. The maps are all interesting – the whole thing is really summarised in the diagram on page 266’.

If Bob’s verbal precision hid some uncertainties, these were, perhaps, ones that only his analytical mind would have recognised. The great grandson of a Norfolk rector, he was a committed and very traditional Christian. He had no doubts of the virtue of the Christian message as a guide to life, less confidence in promises for the future.

His family and friends mourn a loving and caring man, always there for those who asked anything of him, often surprising them with the insights he offered.

John Symons

[Brit.med.J., 2012 344 1047]

(Volume XII, page web)

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