Lives of the fellows

Alfred Robinson

b.5 May 1930 d.10 October 2013
BA Cantab(1951) MB BChir(1954) MRCP(1961) DCH(1961) FRCP(1974) FRCPCH

Alfred (‘Bud’) Robinson was a consultant paediatrician in Chichester and Worthing. He was born in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, into a close knit family. His father, also called Alfred, was a fish merchant, and Bud spent a fair amount of his early years around the docks. His mother, Kathleen Mary Robinson née Hutton, was the daughter of a labourer. Bud’s grandparents and great grandparents also lived in the town. He attended local schools, though education was not a high priority. During the early years of the war, when attendance was only for half a day, he spent a lot of time playing with friends, doing jobs for neighbours for pocket money and going to the local cinema. When normal schooling resumed, he proved he was grammar school material, though he frequently got into trouble. It wasn’t until he was in his teens that he became aware of the importance of education. He then began to work hard in class, as well as becoming a good athlete and an army cadet, and was awarded an open scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge.

Being in Cambridge opened the door to a new world for him. He played water polo and soccer for his college, met students from the Commonwealth and other parts of the UK with whom he remained friends, developed an interest in music and completed the tripos in two years. His clinical training was at Guy’s Hospital in London. He qualified in 1954 and became engaged to Audrey Pask, who had been his girlfriend since his teens.

After posts as an assistant house surgeon and then casualty officer at Guy’s, and as a house physician in Lincoln, he began his National Service in the Navy. He was appointed as a medical officer in the frigate squadron and was posted to Singapore. Prior to leaving the UK in 1956, he and Audrey were married. During the next 18 months he found himself in Japan, Ceylon, Borneo and the Philippines, and during the Suez Crisis he was for some time in the Red Sea. His wife was able to join him when he was finally posted to the Asian Hospital in Singapore, where he cared for the patients on the base. Their first child was born while there, and by this time Bud had made the decision to become a paediatrician.

Returning to civilian life in 1958, he became a senior house officer at St Charles Hospital, and then began his specialist training, working as a registrar at the Miller Hospital, Greenwich, and at St Thomas’, and as a chief assistant at Bart’s.

On the lookout for a consultant post, he couldn’t believe his luck when one was advertised in West Sussex in 1965. The post was a new one in Worthing and Chichester districts: up until then children had been looked after by consultant physicians and medical registrars. Having been appointed, his early experiences were memorable. To start with his senior house officer at Chichester had been dismissed the previous weekend. The consultant physicians at both hospitals were only too glad to hand over the care of the children on the wards. Both districts had scattered units for children, which he had to visit and he had many requests from GPs to do home visits.

At this time paediatrics was a new specialty. Both districts needed reorganisation, new staffing patterns, and changes in management and attitude. He was single-handed, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and had to approach his friends to do locums so he could have holidays or attend important meetings elsewhere. I joined in him in 1969, by which time families were visiting freely, plans were in hand to put paediatric patients on one site in both districts, health visitors were in attendance in outpatient clinics, where they could give helpful information about the families, and arrangements for schooling and play on the ward were in place.

The need for education for medical staff had been realised and buildings were being built where clinical meetings could be held, students taught and libraries made available for all staff. From the first Bud had a reputation for being a good teacher and in 1973 took over as the clinical tutor at Chichester. The role and influence of the clinical tutor was increasing, and Bud saw this as an opportunity to widen and deepen the education presentations, so he arranged sessions by GPs, paramedics and visiting specialists. He also took part in the planning and completion of a building for the medical students, and the re-building of the medical centre in 1991 – a magnificent two-storey building, which is still one of the best in the UK.

In the 1970s he visited one of his friends – a GP in Canada – working with him and flying from Winnipeg to Indian reserves and groups of white settlers, each with their own resident nurse and in-patient treatment rooms. He received an invitation to remain there as a paediatric professor, but he decided against any move from the UK. In 1982 he was awarded a Wyeth travelling scholarship to North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and discovered several differences in the education and work of American paediatricians compared with those in the UK.

When university representatives were appointed to each south west Thames district, he was nominated as the University of London member for Chichester District Health Authority. As an active member of the regional tutors and specialists committee, he was conversant with the expanding demands of pre-registration, senior house officer posts and the different specialties, and was appointed associate dean of the South West Thames Region and subsequently postgraduate dean. He was also chairman of the regional joint planning committee, which looked after the specialty and junior staffing structures.

He had an awareness of the needs of the next generation, both as a paediatrician and a teacher. His technique of relentless teasing with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye was very effective. He was a superb clinician – considerate, kind, very knowledgeable and a delight to work with. His ability to put mother and children at their ease was obvious. He was compassionate, warm and humorous, but when required had a serious approach to the child, parents and the condition that was to be treated. As a friend he was very supportive. Following retirement, his hobbies were golf, gardening and reading.

Bud and Audrey were devoted to each other. He was very proud of his six children (Louise, Guy, Hilary, Lindsey, Sally and Graham). Two became doctors and two are nurses, with the other two choosing non-medical careers. All married and between them there are 16 grandchildren.

J M Semmens

[BMJ 2014 348 3670]

(Volume XII, page web)

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