Lives of the fellows

David Gibb Vulliamy

b.31 July 1917 d.17 June 2013
MRCS LRCP(1941) MB BChir Cantab(1942) DCH(1948) MRCP(1949) MD(1952) FRCP(1970)

David Vulliamy was a consultant paediatrician in West Dorset from 1955 until 1977. He was born in Wilmslow, the son of Llewelyn Douglas Vulliamy and Elsie Vulliamy née Gibb, and grew up near Macclesfield, Cheshire. The Vulliamys were Swiss in origin, and were famous for making clocks in the 18th and 19th centuries – several became Clockmakers to the Crown. His father, an accountant and a director of a packing company based in Manchester, was determined that David should not follow him into business. David’s ambition to do medicine was also heavily influenced by the death of his elder brother at the age of 17 from rheumatic endocarditis, as well as his admiration for the family doctor.

David was educated at Oriel House Preparatory School in North Wales and then at Bromsgrove. He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, and completed his clinical training at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, qualifying in 1941. Life as a student during the Second World War included taking part in night time fire-watching from the roof of the hospital.

He completed his preregistration year at Pembury Hospital and at the Wildernesse, Sevenoaks, a country club converted into a Guy’s Hospital outpost during the war years. It was here that he met his wife, Daphne (née Gould), a physiotherapist who had also recently qualified from Guy’s, and they married in October 1942.

Almost immediately David was conscripted into the Royal Army Medical Corps. After a short period of military training he was posted to East Africa with the rank of captain and joined the 1st T T Field Ambulance Unit at Moshi, in Tanganyika. He learned a limited amount of Swahili from attending a short course in Nairobi, though most East Africans spoke their own tribal languages. Exercises for the officers included climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. He ended his war service in Burma, just before the Japanese surrender, which occurred whilst he was in hospital recovering from amoebic dysentery. He was ordered home on the next available troopship because doctors were needed for Aneurin Bevan’s new National Health Service. He returned to England in 1946.

He decided to specialise in ‘children’s health care’, which was only later to take the name ‘paediatrics’ from the USA. After passing the MRCP and the diploma in child health, he was a senior registrar at Guy’s Hospital children’s department and subsequently an assistant to the professor of child health, Alan Moncrieff [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VI, p.343] at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.

In 1955 he was the first consultant paediatrician to be appointed in west Dorset. He was one of a generation of singlehanded paediatricians who established paediatrics as a specialty outside teaching hospitals. Covering a wide area was extremely demanding and included irregular hours, both night and day. After four or five years of arguing for the needs of babies and children and stressing the necessity of centralising their care, he was instrumental in establishing a separate children’s unit and a special care baby unit for newborns staffed with properly trained nurses at the Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester. However, it wasn’t until 18 years later that a second paediatrician – Richard Purvis – was appointed together with more junior medical staff.

Whilst recovering from pericarditis, David was persuaded by Ronald MacKeith [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.358], from Guy’s Hospital, of the need for a short textbook on the care of the newborn, covering the special disorders of the first month of life. The first edition of The newborn child etc (London, J & A Churchill) was published in 1961. With updating every four to five years, it went on through five editions and subsequently his successor, Peter Johnston, helped to keep it up to date. He continued until a ninth edition was published in 2004.

In 1969 David took a three month sabbatical to St John’s, Newfoundland, where a new paediatric unit and medical school were being established. This included visiting the hospital at St Anthony and remote nursing stations in Labrador. In 1975 he visited Iraq as an examiner for the diploma in child health.

In 1982 he went to the Soviet Union with a group of doctors under the umbrella of the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, visiting Moscow, Leningrad and Yaroslavl.

During his retirement he developed the family interest in clocks and watches, and was a member of the Dorset Clock Society. He wrote a monograph, The Vulliamy clockmakers (Ticehurst, Antiquarian Horological Society, 2002), which distilled a large amount of collected information.

David was very committed to local causes. Both he and Daphne were talented watercolour artists and enjoyed numerous painting holidays together. David was chairman and then president of the Dorchester Art Club for some years.

He was also president of the Bockhampton and District Horticultural Association for some 20 years, and a member of Stinsford Parish Council and Stinsford Church Council. He was a founder committee member of the Thomas Hardy Society, based in Dorchester, and in 1968 attended the inaugural lunch, at which Harold Macmillan was the guest of honour. He also enjoyed carpentry and was a good tennis player.

Daphne predeceased him by three years, but he continued to live independently in the school house they had converted back in 1962, until he died peacefully at home aged 96. He was survived by two sons (one a retired paediatrician), three grandchildren (one recently qualified in medicine and in dentistry) and two great grandchildren.

Christopher Vulliamy
David Vulliamy

[Brit.med.J., 2013 347 5173]

(Volume XII, page web)

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