Lives of the fellows

Maurice Garretts

b.19 November 1926 d.7 October 2012
MB BS Lond(1950) MRCP(1952) FRCP(1970)

Maurice Garretts was a much-loved Manchester dermatologist who devoted his life tirelessly and enthusiastically to his profession from his arrival in the city in 1961 until his retirement in 1991. He was consultant to no less than five Manchester hospitals and managed to keep up a thriving private practice as well. Maurice, however, was a Londoner, born in Stepney, the son of Alfred Garretts, a postmaster, and Ariane Garretts née Waterman. He was educated at Coburn and Westminster City schools, and received his medical training at University College Hospital, London.

Maurice developed his interest in dermatology whilst still a medical student. He came under the influence of the eminent dermatologist William Goldsmith [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.201], who had been editor of the British Journal of Dermatology from 1939 to 1948 and was later to become president of the British Association of Dermatologists.

After graduating in 1950 and then completing his general medical training, Maurice was appointed as a registrar and subsequently a senior registrar at University College Hospital and St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin. Maurice greatly enjoyed these years and would often recount anecdotes from that time. He recalled in particular the occasion when the renowned London dermatologist Robert MacKenna [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.308] asked Maurice to accompany him on a visit to Chartwell House, the Kent country home of Winston Churchill, to which he had been summoned to see the then prime minister. It was at University College Hospital that Maurice met his future wife, Sheila (née Hirschfield), who was then working there as a medical secretary. They were married at the St John’s Wood Synagogue in Abbey Road, London, in 1952.

During his National Service Maurice served as a dermatologist with the British Army of the Rhine in Germany. He found himself examining a number of well-known Nazi prisoners, including Rudolf Hess, who was held in Spandau prison, Berlin, and Albert Kesselring, who had commanded the Luftwaffe in numerous campaigns in the Second World War. Maurice recounted an exchange with Kesselring, who asked him: ‘You’re Jewish, aren’t you?’, to which he replied that he was. ‘Ah yes, the Jews have always made the best doctors’, was Kesselring’s response. Maurice became a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps and never flinched from doing his best to care for all patients, irrespective of their religious beliefs and political affiliations.

Maurice’s open-mindedness is exemplified by his decision to widen his experience of dermatology by spending six months in Alfred Marchionini’s department at the University of Munich, on a Radcliffe Crocker travelling scholarship. Maurice thoroughly enjoyed his time in Munich and kept up his German connections throughout his career, being one of the few British members of the Deutsche Dermatologische Gesellschaft up until his retirement.

On his return from Munich, he was appointed as a consultant dermatologist to the Manchester and Salford Hospital for Skin Diseases. In Manchester he had a very full clinical schedule with commitments at multiple hospitals around the conurbation. In addition to out-patient, in-patient and teaching commitments at the Skin Hospital, he was the principal dermatologist at Manchester’s main teaching hospital, Manchester Royal Infirmary. He also held weekly clinics at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Withington Hospital and Wythenshawe Hospital. An unusual component of his career was an informal position he held as a dermatology consultant to Chester Zoo, where he was asked to give his opinion on skin problems arising in a range of animals, including an elephant and a polar bear.

Over the next 30 years he committed himself selflessly to his patients and to passing on his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for dermatology to medical students, trainees and younger consultant colleagues. He was held in great affection by his colleagues and was much respected for his qualities of humility, tenderness, compassion and professional integrity.

Maurice’s last years were spent in north London, where he and Sheila lived close to their daughter and her family. He was often to be seen at the section of dermatology meetings at the Royal Society of Medicine. He remained fit and active until his last illness and for many years selflessly supported his wife, Sheila, whose health had not been as sound as his. Maurice was survived by Sheila, by their children, Angela and James, and by their grandchildren, Andrew and Jonathan.

Robert Chalmers

[Brit.med.J., 2013 346 574]

(Volume XII, page web)

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