Lives of the fellows

Cynthia Ruth Woodhall

b.22 December 1947 d.21 March 2013
MB ChB Manch(1971) DRCOG(1977) MRCP(1979) MRCPCH(1979) FRCP(1995) FRCPCH

Cynthia Woodhall was a consultant paediatrician at Whiston Hospital, Prescot, Merseyside, from 1986 to 2003, and then a part-time community paediatrician until her final retirement in 2008. She was brought up in the Black Country and was an only child. She attended Manchester University Medical School, where she won the Lapage paediatric prize, and graduated in 1971.

She undertook a number of junior posts around Manchester and, by 1977, was well on her way to a career in paediatrics, being appointed as a tutor in child health and then, in February 1981, as a senior registrar in paediatrics, which rotated through to neonatal paediatrics. She was then appointed as a senior registrar in neonatal paediatrics at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, for a year. As part of this training she undertook a fellowship in neonatology at Dalhousie University in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada, where she carried out extensive epidemiological research on an observed increase in retrolental fibroplasia in Nova Scotia. The results were presented to a meeting of the Canadian Paediatric Society. Cynthia’s time in Nova Scotia was a very formative one; she had a long-lasting affection for Canada and also formed very important friendships.

In 1986 she was appointed as a consultant paediatrician at Whiston. Her main contribution was the development of a specialist diabetic service there, which expanded to involve three nurse specialists. She also pioneered many innovations in looking after child and adolescent diabetics. These included evening adolescent clinics and the establishment of annual weekend trips to an outdoor centre for patients and support staff. While there the children could learn about diabetes, mix with other children with their illness, and try many adventurous activities they, or their parents, may not have thought possible. Cynthia also showed her patients that she and the other members of staff were human. ‘Dr Woodhall wears jeans’ is one of the famous comments made by one of the children. As part of her legacy, the annual outdoor centre trips continue and flourish.

She also took on the burden of becoming divisional director of paediatrics and obstetrics and gynaecology. Keeping the obstetrics and gynaecology department happy as well as paediatrics was a difficult task, but with her diplomatic skills she was able to steer between the two specialties. As a general paediatrician she was also inevitably involved in child protection work; she became a highly respected expert witness and assisted in many cases in courts around the north west.

Wherever she worked, Cynthia made a great impression and a number of paediatricians around Manchester remember her with a great deal of affection. She was distinguished not only by her clinical acumen, but also by her thoughtful approach to problems. She was always smart and had very small but incredibly legible writing. She was good a listener and treated each child as an individual. As a colleague she was very congenial, helpful and we helped each other out, particularly in difficult times. She enjoyed her gin and tonics, and was a defiant smoker!

She kept her private life very separate from her professional life. She and her partner Steve, whom she had met in 1975, enjoyed a long and happy life together. They met while they were both working at Wythenshawe Hospital, Cynthia as a junior doctor and Steve in the laboratory. They seem to have bonded over a blood sample! Initially, they set up home in Derbyshire, but when Cynthia was appointed to Whiston they moved to Cheshire, to an old smithy, and developed an ecological garden there together, which became a haven for birds.

In the early 1990s she started to play golf and continued this following her retirement. She was quite competitive; her high point was when she sank a long putt on the 18th hole at St Andrews Old Course, receiving spontaneous applause from the gathered crowd of spectators.

Following her final retirement she devoted herself to travel, golf and gardening. She died suddenly and was survived by Steve, her partner.

John Sills

[BMJ 2013 347 5988]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List