Lives of the fellows

Samuel William John Richmond

b.5 September 1949 d.10 March 2013
MB BS Newcastle(1972) MRCP(1984) FRCP(1994)

Sam Richmond’s greatest professional satisfaction was to have served the population of Sunderland for more than 25 years as a consultant neonatologist at the Sunderland Royal Hospital. However, he also had an international reputation in neonatal research and resuscitation training, and was, to quote a friend and a colleague: ‘A big man in so many ways’.

Sam Richmond was born in London, the son of John Christopher Blake and Diana Margaret Lyle Richmond, the fourth of five siblings. His early years were spent abroad, mainly in the Middle East, as his father was in the Diplomatic Service. He studied medicine at Newcastle University and qualified in 1972.

After two years in paediatrics and general medicine in Sunderland and Newcastle General, he went to work in Algeria (1975) and then Yemen (1976 to 1979) through Save the Children. During his time in Yemen, Sam’s teaching and administration expertise developed. He set up maternal and child health centres, with courses for primary healthcare workers, in Rowdah, Taiz and Amran. These were approved by the Yemen Ministry of Health and used as training posts by the World Health Organization for various grades of staff. He also set about reaching a wider audience by organising a health education radio programme in conjunction with Radio Sanaa. These years abroad confirmed to Sam the importance of developing priorities in the provision of health care, and the necessity of obtaining accurate epidemiological information on which to base decisions. This period also reinforced his life-long love for Arab culture.

In 1979 he returned to Tyneside and over the next three years worked in paediatrics and neonatal surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, and at the Princess Mary Maternity and Fleming Memorial hospitals in Newcastle. He carried out 18 months of research in the biochemical screening unit at Peterborough District Hospital on the early diagnosis of cystic fibrosis, and a further year as a paediatric registrar in Leicester. In August 1984 the Spastics Society funded him for two years in Newcastle, investigating the epidemiology of cerebral palsy. Sam was greatly appreciative of all of his colleagues throughout his career, and felt privileged to have gained from their experience and training. He was particularly indebted to his mentor in Newcastle, Edmund Hey [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web].

From 1986, Sam dedicated himself to setting up the neonatal unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital. He loved it and the people of Sunderland whom he served. He was dedicated to the NHS and opposed to any political interference which might affect it. He formed strong bonds with all his clinical colleagues, demonstrating a belief in the multidisciplinary team before it became a common way of working. His style of personal, yet professional family-centred care, together with fine judgement and expert practical skills, won the respect of an already able team. He was a kind, gentle and modest man, with an almost legendary ability to arrive on the baby unit when most needed.

With Sam Richmond’s vision and leadership, and the appointment of new nursing and medical colleagues, the neonatal unit forged ahead. He encouraged staff to keep abreast of the changing NHS, developing advanced neonatal nurse practitioners, and valuing everybody’s efforts and ideas. There will be many parents who will miss Sam Richmond, not only because of his care of their babies, but also because of the close, sensitive and caring relationship he developed with so many of them. Whether for babies, parents, colleagues or trainees, Sam cared.

Sam Richmond was known in many countries for his work with the new-born life support (NLS) course, teaching professionals to help babies effectively at birth. He led the development of this course in the UK and Europe, helping to establish it in Cyprus, the Netherlands, Poland and Greece, and also teaching it in Bangladesh and Palestine. Until his retirement he was chair of the committees within the Resuscitation Council (UK) and European Resuscitation Council responsible for NLS. Sam was also co-chair of the neonatal task force of the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation, evaluating evidence and writing guidelines. Sam leaves a lasting international legacy of effective training and standards in newborn resuscitation, which will continue to benefit babies and clinicians in the future.

Sam Richmond was the author of many peer-reviewed publications and book chapters, as well as editing several manuals and books. He sat on a number of data-monitoring committees of national and multinational trials, for which he was in demand because of his analytical mind and unbiased approach to data. He carried out extensive research within the northern region, especially with the Northern Congenital Abnormality and Perinatal Mortality and Morbidity Surveys, and continued the northern neonatal nursing collaboration first developed by Edmund Hey. Sam’s research was also multidisciplinary, involving all relevant people and focused wherever possible on outcomes that were the most important to patients and parents.

For over 10 years Sam spent several weeks each year in Bangladesh, teaching and training. In 2005 he went to Gaza to give his time in support of Palestinians. He had lasting bonds with the Arab world. His grandfather and great-grandfather both had strong connections with the Middle East, and Sam’s parents had campaigned actively on behalf of Palestinians from Sam’s earliest years.

Several common themes emerge when people recall Sam – integrity, modesty, kindness, respect, intellect, patience, approachability and availability. These qualities were found in all the areas of Sam’s life, including family, friends, his work in Sunderland, nationally and internationally.

Away from work, Sam greatly enjoyed many different kinds of music, especially the operas of Giuseppe Verdi. He also loved salmon fishing on the Tyne, and in Scotland, Iceland and Russia. He enjoyed gardening and gardens and had a life-long enthusiasm for motorbikes.

Sam was diagnosed with bowel cancer just prior to his retirement and, when the prognosis worsened, he and his wife Liz made the most of his time in typical fashion. Marriage and life with Liz was a huge joy for Sam.

Sam Richmond was a neonatologist of international renown. He always wanted to be the best, not in a competitive way, but because it was what he felt his patients and their parents deserved. Despite international accolades, it was from the care of babies at and shortly after birth, and the love and companionship of family and friends, that Sam derived most satisfaction. He was survived by Liz, by family and friends made richer for having known him, and by many colleagues who simply feel he was one of the best neonatologists they have ever known.

Jonathan Wyllie
Majd AbuHarb

(Volume XII, page web)

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