Lives of the fellows

George Adam Newsholme

b.18 May 1921 d.1 September 2011
MB BChir Cantab(1945) MRCP(1948) MD(1951) DMRT(1957) FRCP(1970) FRCR(1975)

George Adam Newsholme was a consultant radiotherapist for the United Birmingham Hospitals. He was born in Ripon, Yorkshire, into a medical family. His grandfather, Sir Arthur Newsholme [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.404], had been one of the pioneers of public health and his father, Henry Pratt Newsholme [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.307] was medical officer of health in Birmingham and professor of public health at the university. His mother, Kathleen Denness Newsholme née Cooper, had attended Cambridge University, one of a small number of women to do so at the time (1908). George was also academically gifted, being awarded the senior foundation scholarship to King Edward VI High School in Birmingham and an exhibition in natural sciences on his entry to Peterhouse College, Cambridge.

After Cambridge, he moved to Birmingham for his clinical studies, qualifying in 1945. In that same year, aged 24, he was appointed resident medical officer at the General Hospital, Birmingham; the more senior doctors were involved in war work. He worked extremely hard and gained invaluable experience. He said it was seldom worth going to bed before 2 or 3am. If he did, someone would come and get him up to look at a patient.

After the end of the war he spent two years in Germany in the RAMC, during which time he obtained his MRCP, studying during the bitterly cold Hamburg winter of 1946 to 1947. When George left the Rhine Army in 1948, Colonel FM Richardson described him in a testimonial as: ‘…a most charming, hard working and reliable colleague, sympathetic and with a wide knowledge of human nature, and most expert in his handling of all types of patients. He preserved the most excellent relationships with all the medical, nursing and administrative members of the staff, and with all those with whom our medical units had to deal, civilians and military of all nations.’

On his return to the UK, he worked as a registrar on the medical professorial unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and gained his MD doing research on the uptake of radioactive material by the thyroid gland. In 1953 he agreed to go as a resident medical officer to the Royal Hospital Wolverhampton to widen his experience. It was there that he caught a near fatal generalised tuberculous infection from a patient. The illness produced, amongst other problems, thrombosis of the veins over the surface of the brain. George was unable to see properly or understand written words. At the time it seemed that he would never work again. However, a year later, he returned to a more junior job.

Competition for consultant posts was fierce as a large number of doctors had returned from war service and were three to four years ahead of him. He decided at this time to move into radiotherapy. He obtained his diploma in medical radiography technology (DMRT) in 1957 and the following year was appointed as a consultant radiotherapist to the United Birmingham Hospitals.

When he was appointed as a consultant, he had trained in radiotherapy, but he still had his strong experience in general medicine. He realised from the beginning that treating cancer needed more than just the use of X-ray therapy, and chemotherapy was emerging as another approach. George began organising a more comprehensive approach than that of his predecessors. As a consequence he was often consulted by his colleagues in surgery and medical specialties. His contribution to the development of a more comprehensive service for treating cancer in the Midlands greatly enhanced the reputation of the United Birmingham Hospitals.

George was an excellent diagnostician, a generous teacher and a great role model for his junior colleagues. As well as his intellectual and medical skills, he had the ability to take on his own shoulders the anxieties and worries of his patients, and give them hope and courage to face their illness.

George had many interests. Throughout his life music was a passion and, during his last years, a great solace. He remembered Rachmaninoff playing in Birmingham and delighted in finding worthwhile music that was undiscovered. For example, he had the Nadia Boulanger recordings of Monteverdi madrigals on old crackly 78s and was an enthusiast for Maurice Duruflé’s requiem, a good 20 years before it became popular in the UK. Electronics were another interest. He made his own tape recorder at a time when they were something of a curiosity, and for many years there was a large chest in the corner of the family living room full of glowing valves and flickering meters – his homemade hi-fi system.

George was also fascinated by flying. He made and flew radio-controlled planes for many years and, at the age of 70, took his interest a step further and had lessons in flying a Cessna. His retirement also gave him more time to fish, a skill he had learned from his father on Yorkshire rivers, and to work as churchwarden, secretary and treasurer of Bredwardine church in Herefordshire. In these roles he carried out many repair and maintenance tasks, together with legal and church procedures in his usual effective but unpretentious way.

When he was 80 he suffered a fall on the stairs. The injuries were severe and left him (after two operations and six months in hospital) with great difficulty walking. He bore this with his usual fortitude, patience and positive outlook, although for an immensely practical man who seldom stayed still, this must have been extremely hard. He said: ‘I cannot do much, but at least I can remain happy for the people around me.’ He was a gentle and astonishingly unselfish man. Even in the last week of his life, despite all he was enduring, he always asked after other people, rather than talking about himself. He was survived by his wife Rosemary Ann (née Bishop), one son and two daughters, and seven grandchildren.

Dorothy Davies

[Brit.med.J.,2012 344 1048]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List