Lives of the fellows

Leonard Sinclair

b.23 September 1928 d.20 April 2013
BSc Lond(1952) MB BS(1954) DCH(1957) MRCP(1960) FRCP(1974) FRCPCH(1998)

Leonard Sinclair was a consultant paediatrician at Charing Cross Hospital, London. He was born in London, the only child of Sidney, a poor East End garment worker, and his wife Blanche (née Appele), and was helped by scholarships throughout his education. He decided to become a doctor as a young child: as a seven-year-old he was hospitalised with rheumatic fever and so admired the staff who looked after him that he determined to become a paediatrician when he grew up. He was educated at the Raines Foundation School and, following a period of National Service, he entered Middlesex Hospital Medical School in 1948. In 1952 he obtained a BSc in physiology and gained the public health and social medicine prize, a proficiency certificate in psychiatry, the James McIntosh scholarship in pathology, the Lyell gold medal for surgery and the Myerstein scholarship for clinical studies. His fellow student and lifelong friend Claus Newman, later to become a paediatric cardiologist, remembers the excited conversations he had with him about the teaching of the day, which carried on to Goodge Street station and beyond.

Although Sinclair was disappointed not to obtain a house job at Middlesex Hospital, despite his academic record, in retrospect he felt that the wider medical experience at Southend General and Whittington Hospital, in Archway, more than compensated. His next post was as a junior lecturer in pharmacology and therapeutics at Guy’s. Guided by Maurice Lessof, he gained his membership of the Royal College of Physicians during this period. He remembered that he bought his first made to measure suit to enhance his appearance for the examination. With tongue in cheek, he said he owed his success to his tailor, who made a special inside pocket in his jacket for his stethoscope.

From 1960 to 1962 he was a registrar at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children and then, from 1962 to 1966 a senior registrar in paediatrics at Westminster Children’s Hospital. He also carried out research. During this period he described three new genetic disorders – infantile hypoaldosteronism, ornithine decarboxylase deficiency and an allelic cellular magnesium transport defect. This work culminated in his book Metabolic disease in childhood (Oxford, Blackwell Scientific, 1979), which stands as a monument to mid-20th century advances in the biochemistry of genetic diseases. It was the last authoritative monograph on the subject before the full advent of molecular medicine. He was offered a professorship at the Westminster Medical School, which he declined, as he preferred to continue as a clinical paediatrician. However, he was awarded visiting professorships at Mount Sinai (New York) and at the University of Rotterdam. He also patented a portable apparatus for detection of deafness in babies and evaluation of brainstem function. He donated the royalties derived from the invention to the Institute of Laryngology and Otology.

In 1965 he became a consultant paediatrician at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, followed by appointments at Charing Cross and the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital at Gray’s Inn Road. As a consultant, his advice was sought on difficult administrative, as well as medical, matters and he helped design the paediatric department at Charing Cross where he worked, as well as premature baby units throughout the metropolis.

His manner of presenting arguments was somewhat forceful and he had a strict sense of justice. He recalled that, when he arrived at the department one morning, he found his staff in a state of uproar as they felt that they had been short changed, yet again, by the management. He realised his staff expected him to take up the cudgels on their behalf, and gave him the relevant phone number. He immediately dialled and, before the recipient could answer, vociferously explained the situation for the next five minutes. When he stopped for breath, the voice on the other end of the phone said: ‘Do you know to whom you are speaking?’ Sinclair replied he had no idea and was told it was the chairman of the regional board. Sinclair then asked: ‘Do you know to whom you are speaking?’ The answer came back ‘No’, to which Sinclair replied ‘Thank God for that’ and quickly replaced the receiver.

Throughout his life, he supported Jewish causes, including buying an ambulance for Magen David Adom (Red Star of David), Israel’s national emergency organisation, and by supporting Jews who had been refused exit permits from Soviet Russia.

In retirement, he continued to work and developed an interest in biochemical markers in, and treatments for, autism. He also wrote a light hearted book recalling some of his own unusual clinical experiences, Louie, the au pair syndrome and other tales (Manchester, i2i, 2012).

He would have been touched by the number of former patients who visited his widow after his death, and would have been amused by the death notice in The Times, which described him as a ‘meritorious’ rather than an ‘emeritus’ consultant. He was survived by his wife, Ann, whom he married in 1959, their four children, Judith, Jonathan, David and Archie, and numerous grandchildren.

David J M Wright

[Brit.med.J., 2013 347 3529]

(Volume XII, page web)

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