Lives of the fellows

Hugh Moffat Leather

b.30 August 1925 d.24 April 2012
MB ChB Birm(1947) MRCP(1951) MD Bristol(1958) FRCP(1968)

Hugh Leather was a consultant physician in Plymouth. He was born in Birmingham, the son of Douglas John Leather, a bank manager, and Edith Leather née Walker, the daughter of an engineer. He attended King Henry VIII School, Coventry, and Ellesmere College, Shropshire, before graduating from Birmingham University with a distinction in pharmacology in 1947.

His first house job at Selly Oak Hospital was followed by National Service in the RAMC. Thereafter he worked at the Hallam Hospital, West Bromwich, and the Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton, before taking up the post of medical register at Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1952. In 1954 he became a senior medical registrar at Bristol Royal Infirmary, and in 1955 he was offered the opportunity of a year in Africa and became a lecturer in medicine at Makerere College, Kampala, Uganda. He had a particular interest in the treatment of hypertension in adult Africans in Uganda, which became the study for his MD thesis in 1958. Before returning to work on the professorial unit at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, he drove with his wife and young daughter from Kampala to Cape Town, an adventurous undertaking and not without its dangers.

Hugh was appointed as a consultant physician to the Plymouth hospitals in 1962 at the age of 36, when the city had eight hospitals. It was a rather sleepy medical backwater and Hugh was a breath of fresh air. He was highly intelligent and had energy, drive, enthusiasm and vision. It was the start of an incredibly exciting time in medicine – there were new investigative measures, new treatments and new specialties being created. Hugh lived to see the development of Derriford Hospital, which became the largest non-teaching hospital in Europe, and also, finally, the establishment of both a medical and dental school.

In 1962 patients had to travel to Bristol twice weekly for haemodialysis and so Hugh set up dialysis in Plymouth, the first patient being dialysed in 1965. Within a short time a seven bed unit was established and this served not only patients from the Plymouth area, but also from Cornwall. Hugh saw the transfer of the renal unit to Derriford and the arrival of both transplant surgeons and full-time nephrologists.

Hugh was very keen on postgraduate education and, with the help of Jack Doumolin and Pat Adam, planned, raised the money for and built the postgraduate medical centre at the back of North Friary House. This was a major achievement: it housed not only an impressive lecture theatre, but also dining facilities and it became an excellent meeting place for consultants and general practitioners. Hugh became a clinical tutor and was a founder member and second chairman of the National Association of Clinical Tutors.

He was an excellent chairman. He would introduce a topic, ask someone to speak to it, pick out someone who he knew had a slightly different opinion, and then ask if anyone else wished to comment. He would then briefly summarise the topic and say ‘I think the consensus is...’, which was of course what Hugh had planned all the time. Hugh had charm, but he was ruthless in argument and few could match him as a sparing partner, but then he was usually right. Hugh chaired the South West regional subcommittee on higher medical training and the district management team, even holding a meeting in his bedroom on one of the rare occasions when he was unwell. I can remember Hugh arranging a farewell dinner for John Brissenden, the hospital manager at Freedom Fields Hospital, who in his speech said of Hugh that he was just like the soap named after him – imperial and just as slippery.

Hugh was ambitious and was a great ambassador for Plymouth. He flew the flag on every possible occasion and he was particularly proud to be elected to the council of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1985, the RCP decided to initiate regional teach-ins and needless to say Hugh used his influence and diplomatic skills and in 1987 Plymouth became one of the first non-university centres to host such a meeting. Hugh was also president of the Plymouth Medical Society and a founder member of the Legal and Medical Dining Club.

Hugh was a generous host. Colleagues and junior doctors were frequently invited to his home at Leatside, Yelverton. There would be stories, discussions and often music, and visitors would leave in the early hours of the morning enriched in body, mind and spirit. He also had a good sense of humour. In the days when doctors dressed up on Christmas Day to carve the turkey, he appeared one year as a flapper – complete with short dress, make up, long cigarette holder, a droopy, beaded necklace and high heels, showing, I gather, not only a pair of hairy legs, but also some varicose veins. In addition to carving the turkey, he also insisted on doing a ward round.

Hugh was greatly admired and respected by his consultant and general practitioner colleagues, and if they became ill he was always the consultant they wished to look after them. Hugh felt a career in medicine was a privilege and should be enjoyed; he was not simply a successful doctor, but a valuable one and he had an enormous influence on the development of medicine in Plymouth and on the careers of many junior doctors. Hugh had high standards and he always ensured that patients did not lose out because they lived in a rural area. He was not only a very professional doctor, but he was also caring, compassionate and very protective of his patients. He published some 23 papers and co-authored one book – A synopsis of renal disease and urology (Bristol, John Wright & Sons, 1966).

Hugh had an enthusiasm for life and he had a life filled with the warmth of family and friendships. Throughout his journey, he was sustained by a strong Christian faith and by the love, support, help and guidance of his wife Catherine Margaret (née Stephen), who was his rock. Hugh loved a good argument and he was a special friend to many who will greatly miss his generosity of spirit, the banter and the lively discussions and arguments. He was survived by his wife and their children, Suzi, Hilary and Andrew.

David Thrush

(Volume XII, page web)

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