Lives of the fellows

Peter Reid Duncan

b.23 November 1919 d.23 October 2014
BSc Manch(1940) MB ChB(1943) MRCP(1948) MD(1952) FRCP(1969)

Peter Duncan was one of the last general physicians and helped develop Victoria Hospital, Blackpool, into a comprehensive centre. He was perhaps most proud of the younger disabled unit he established to provide short-term family respite. He was born in Altrincham, Cheshire, where his father, Robert Reid Duncan, was a general practitioner and local mayor, who according to family legend removed Peter’s tonsils on the kitchen table. His mother, Marguerite (née Forth) was originally from Whitby. Peter attended Rossall School and then Manchester University, where he gained a first class BSc degree in anatomy and physiology, before qualifying in 1943.

He was a house surgeon to John Morley at the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) and then joined the RAMC as a lieutenant. He served in a field ambulance and as a regimental medical officer for nine months, and was then stationed at a British Military Hospital in India, where he was medical director for six months. He next served on a hospital ship under South East Asia Command for 14 months, up until December 1946, a posting he regarded as ‘very lucky’ as he had a repeated routine of a busy three days looking after troops returning from Rangoon to India, followed by a quiet three days on the return journey. He was demobilised with the rank of captain.

He had met Noel Salvage, who was serving in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, in Dover and they married in Deolali, India. They returned to Manchester, where Peter worked as a house physician and medical registrar at Ancoats, and then as a medical registrar at the MRI under John Crighton Bramwell [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.61] and as a senior registrar to C S D Don [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.153]. Philippa was born in September 1947, but tragedy struck in July 1949 when Noel’s caesarean scar ruptured at eight months of pregnancy and she and her unborn child both died.

With the help of his sister Ruth, who looked after Philippa, he buried himself in his work, producing an outstanding MD in 1952 on the epidemiology of viral lymphocytic choriomeningitis in the back streets of Manchester. In the same year he appointed as only the second consultant physician to Victoria Hospital, Blackpool. Due to pressure of work, Peter was unable to attend his usual Territorial Army camp, thereby foregoing the Territorial Decoration (TD) that was rightfully his, although he continued as a major in the Territorial branch of the RAMC until 1953.

Peter had met and married in 1951 one of his very bright medical students at Manchester, Kathleen Mary Lord, who became a resident clinical pathologist at the MRI, before moving to Blackpool and concentrating on bringing up the family. Peter’s enthusiasm, energy, drive and love of medicine are evident in a series of letters he wrote to Kathleen at that time.

As well as being a senior physician for 21 years, he was also chair of the medical advisory committee and a member of the hospital management committee. His presidential address to the Manchester Medical Society in 1979 concentrated on his younger disabled unit, where he was ahead of his time in recognising the need for short-term family respite.

He was an ardent supporter of the Royal College of Physicians, having undertaken the then huge ordeal of the membership viva at the old Canada House headquarters. He loved the new building in Regent’s Park and always tried to attend the annual update in general medicine, being proud of being, as he recognised, one of the last of the truly general physicians. He was elected to the fellowship in 1969.

In retirement, he played golf into his ninetieth year and enjoyed poetry, especially Wordsworth, and his beloved Grasmere. Peter had a long and happy marriage to Kathleen, who pre-deceased him by a year in August 2013. Of his children, Philippa and Anne trained as nurses, John became a consultant haematologist and also a fellow of the RCP. Ruth is a professional singer with an unusual treble voice and has specialised in early music with The Sixteen and the Tallis Scholars. He was survived by 14 grandchildren.

Peter achieved much during a long life. He lived by example. When asked by his young son for his autograph, he quoted Sir William Osler: ‘The master-word (in medicine) is work’ – something the son has always tried to remember! He was a modest quiet man with a lovely dry sense of humour, and was much loved by both nursing and medical colleagues.

John Reid Duncan

[BMJ 2015 351 4189 – accessed 24 August 2015]

(Volume XIi, page web)

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