Lives of the fellows

Charles Peter William Warren

b.4 October 1940 d.3 May 2011
BA Cantab(1961) MB BChir(1964) MRCP(1967) FRCPC(1973) FRCP(1987) DHMSA(2004)

Peter Warren, a distinguished pulmonary physician, educator and medical historian, was a professor of medicine and associate dean for undergraduate education in the faculty of medicine at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. The son of Wilfrid Warren [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.557], a leading London psychiatrist, and his wife Elizabeth Margaret Warren née Park, a physiotherapist, Peter was born in Plymouth, Devon, and educated at Sherborne School, where he showed an interest in and an aptitude for both the arts and sciences, and won many academic prizes. In 1958, he won an exhibition to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from where he proceeded to Guy’s Hospital for his clinical studies (where his only sister, Ann, was a student nurse at the time). He excelled academically, winning the Hillman prize for haematology, the Larkin prize for medicine, the Charles Oldham prize for ophthalmology and the treasurer’s gold medals for both medicine and surgery – a remarkable achievement. He also found time to represent the hospital boat club in the first VIII, where he proved a dedicated and reliable oarsman. He graduated in medicine in 1964.

Between 1964 and 1966 he held house appointments at Guy’s and the Brompton Hospital, after which he was appointed as a junior lecturer in the department of medicine at Guy’s. There followed a registrarship in general medicine and chest diseases at St George’s Hospital, and senior registrar posts in general medicine at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital and in infectious diseases at St George’s. He was then appointed as a senior medical registrar in chest diseases at the Brompton Hospital.

Having married a Canadian nurse at Guy’s, Faye Spencer, in 1966 – a marriage that proved a very happy one – in 1971 he decided to explore life in Canada and arranged a clinical research position in the department of medicine at the University of Manitoba. He enjoyed the academic and intellectual freedom he found in Canada, and remained in Winnipeg for the rest of his life, steadily being promoted until he was appointed professor of medicine and associate head of the department of medicine in 1987. His undoubted tact and diplomacy led to his being given many administrative and committee responsibilities in the medical school, to all of which he attended conscientiously and effectively.

As director of pulmonary medicine his main clinical and research interests were in allergic and occupational lung disorders, particularly those relating to exposure to grain dust, in which he became a leading authority. He was elected president of the Canadian Thoracic Society (from 1990 to 1991) and in 2007 he gave its prestigious Christie memorial lecture. For his contributions to pulmonary medicine, in 2006 he was honoured with a lifetime achievement award by the Canadian Lung Association.

He was an outstanding teacher of medicine and an accessible and patient mentor to generations of medical students. His efforts in this respect were recognised by his being nominated for teaching awards on 13 occasions between 1987 and 2010, and by his election by students (twice) as ‘honorary senior stick’ (in 1985 and 1995) and by election by his peers to the presidency of the Canadian Association for Medical Education (from 1996 to 1997). His teaching extended to education of farmers and other groups impacted by health risks from occupational exposure, and he proved to be someone who could explain a complex topic simply.

Peter had a long and major interest in the history of medicine, having been awarded the Maccabaean prize from the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in London in 1968. He studied for and received a diploma in medical history in 2004 and, after retiring, became a graduate student in the joint master’s programme in history of the Universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg. He was a very active member of the Canadian Society of the History of Medicine, and was its president at the time of his death. He was also an active member of the American Osler Society, a society concerned with both medical history and the humanitarian and ethical aspects of medicine.

He was a member of numerous hospital, university, provincial and national committees in Canada, relating both to pulmonary disease and medical education, including committees of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Peter published more than 70 papers, chapters, invited editorials and reviews on topics relating largely to thoracic medicine, as well as almost 30 papers on aspects of medical education and the history of medicine. He gave a large number of invited presentations in North America and elsewhere on thoracic medicine, medical education, or the history of medicine.

In what little spare time he had after fulfilling his professional responsibilities as a physician and educator, he was a keen gardener (which he found much more challenging in Manitoba than in the UK) and a regular theatre-goer (where his interests extended from plays to opera, classical music and even jazz). Throughout life he read widely (history and fiction) and was an enthusiastic world traveller, and somehow even found time to play golf and bridge. Nevertheless, his family (wife, two sons – Patrick and Richard – and three grandchildren) was all-important to him.

Peter was highly intelligent, conscientious, efficient and productive, yet simultaneously humble and kind. He played a significant and important role in medical activities in Canada for almost four decades, but he had what Canadians consider the English trait of modestly understating one’s accomplishments. He was balanced in his views on any topic, and proved a very popular colleague and a loyal friend to those with whom he interacted throughout life. In summary, he was a gem of a man.

David K C Cooper

[, 2011 343 5435; Can Respir J. 2011 May-Jun; 18(3): 128; Winnipeg Free Press Charles Warren – accessed 25 January 2014; Canadian Society for the History of Medicine – accessed 25 January 2014]

(Volume XII, page web)

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