Lives of the fellows

Howard Eaton Freeman Davies

b.5 November 1924 d.29 June 2012
BSc Wales(1945) MB BS Lond(1948) MD Lond(1952) MRCP(1952) FRCP(1975)

When Howard Davies decided to return to clinical medicine after 15 years of research and teaching in physiology, he was invited to join a professorial paediatric unit. Instead, he chose to practise geriatrics, as the most challenging and, at that time, neglected area of medicine. After retraining in Glasgow and at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, he was appointed as a consultant geriatrician at Newport, Gwent, in 1974.

He found care of the elderly in south east Wales to be in a sorry state. Initially single-handed, he was responsible for over 400 beds in five hospitals across south Gwent, as well as supporting geriatric services in the north of the county, and in south Powys. His base hospital in Newport was the old, unrenovated workhouse, where his elderly patients were housed in Nightingale wards on the first and second floors with no lift access. Despite his crippling clinical workload, Howard was responsible for the planning and design of a new building, and saw it open in 1984. He created a day hospital and established rehabilitation and liaison inks with social services. In 1984 he resumed research work in the new ageing research unit at Newport, concentrating on the problems of nutrition in the elderly.

Howard Davies was born in Bargoed in the Rhymney Valley, where his father, Benjamin John Davies, was a schoolmaster. When he was seven the family moved to Pencoed in the Vale of Glamorgan. He attended Bridgend Grammar School before beginning his medical education at University College Cardiff at the age of 17. He obtained first class honours in physiology in 1945 and continued his clinical studies at Guy’s Hospital. Howard qualified in 1948, having won the Lubbock prize in pathology as an undergraduate. At Guy’s he was house physician to Arthur Douthwaite [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.154], whose reference for him referred to Howard’s ‘enthusiasm, ability and exceptional intelligence’.

National Service with the RAF followed. Between 1950 and 1953 he held junior medical posts at Guy’s, Hammersmith (with Sheila Sherlock [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.514]) and Great Ormond Street. By the end of 1952 he had acquired his MRCP and his MD. In 1953 he began his long and distinguished research career with a Medical Research Council (MRC) research fellowship at the University of Manchester.

At Manchester Howard joined a team investigating renal function and, with Oliver Wrong [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], wrote his most memorable paper, on renal tubular acidosis (‘The excretion of acid in renal disease’ Q J Med. 1959 Apr;28(110):259-313).

By 1955 Howard had been away from Wales for ten years, and was homesick. He moved to the MRC pneumoconiosis research unit at Llandough Hospital, before being appointed as a lecturer in medicine at the Welsh National School of Medicine in 1956. His published output was already impressive, with seven papers published and four in preparation. During his working life he produced over 80 papers. Three years later his compulsion to research led him to return to the department of physiology, from which he had graduated with first class honours 13 years earlier. He became a lecturer, then a senior lecturer in physiology. His research interests remained centred on renal function. He established joint seminars between clinical and non-clinical workers. He sat on the editorial board of Y Gwyddonydd (The Scientist), the Welsh-language science journal.

He read papers at international conferences, and spent time at Massachusetts General Hospital and at the Free University, Berlin. Expansion of the medical school in Cardiff, with increasing numbers of graduates, restricted research opportunities and, in 1973, he turned back to clinical medicine.

Howard was reserved and quiet at first meeting, but a warm companion with an acute sense of humour. His gentle manner with patients was matched by a steely determination in guarding their interests.

Outside medicine, his cultural range was wide. He was an intellectual with deep knowledge of English and Welsh literature and history. He wrote verse in both languages. He wrote the history of medicine in Wales, with papers on medieval physicians and the 19th century pioneers of cremation. Another talent was drawing. Howard carried a sketchbook and drew what he saw. His sketches, particularly in colour, show his understanding of light and composition.

Howard spent his youth in the Vale of Glamorgan, and love of the countryside remained with him all his life. As an undergraduate at Cardiff he began to rock climb, and very quickly mastered many of the classical routes in Snowdonia. At Guy’s he would coerce his Welsh contemporaries into field expeditions, which were often exciting and always uncomfortable. While in the RAF he climbed in Scotland, in Austria and in the Savoy.

He eventually retired in 1994 to a gracious country house near Aberystwyth. Here he enjoyed his garden, and could indulge his love of animals and, above all, his hospitality. Some eight years before he died he suffered a myocardial infarction and, although he recovered from the initial episode, progressive cardiac failure followed. He died peacefully, at home with his family.

Howard was survived by his wife, Morfydd Owen, the Welsh medievalist, and their two daughters Luned and Brid, and by Melanie, his daughter from his first marriage.

Eurig Jeffreys

[BMJ 2013 347 28; British Geriatrics Society Dr Howard Eaton Freeman Davies (1924-2012) – accessed 19 December 2014]

(Volume XII, page web)

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