Lives of the fellows

Ronald David Gregg Tunbridge

b.4 December 1941 d.17 February 2016
MB BS Lond(1968) MRCS LRCP(1968) MRCP(1970) MD(1982) FRCP(1984)

Ronald David Gregg Tunbridge (known as David) was a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester and an honorary consultant physician at Manchester Royal Infirmary. He specialised in hypertension and was active in medical education; he had a wonderful, droll sense of humour and a passion for canals.

He was the second son of Dorothy Tunbridge née Gregg and Ronald Ernest Tunbridge [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.513], a distinguished professor of medicine in Leeds and president of the BMA, who was knighted in 1967. David’s brother Michael also had a distinguished medical career. David and Michael attended Kingswood School, Bath, where their father had been educated. At first it seemed that David would buck the family medical trend and he embarked on a geology degree course at Durham University. However, the lure of medicine was such that he soon took a short term post as a laboratory technician in the Almroth Wright research department at St Mary’s Hospital medical school, before joining the 1962 first MB intake of students there. His ability to quietly challenge perceived wisdom was apparent early on and he always wanted to understand the evidence on which bold statements were based; at first sceptical about the compulsory research project in pathology, he was convinced about the value of meticulous clinical research when he realised he had missed peripheral neuropathy in a group of patients with renal disease because nothing had been published on it. He wrote about this experience in the St Mary’s Hospital Gazette. His elective period in 1966 was spent in Ethiopia in the medical unit in Addis Ababa and in outreach clinics. His elective report is a thoughtful account of the diseases, including leprosy, he observed, with an analysis of the educational needs for an effective healthcare system set against the social, economic and political context and international influences on the country. David, like his father and brother, always had a keen interest in medical education.

David’s house jobs were at St Mary’s Hospital and at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Welwyn Garden City, followed by senior house officer posts at the Whittington and back at St Mary’s in neurology with Roger Bannister and Charles Harold Edwards [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.126]. In 1971 David obtained a King’s Fund scholarship to visit Duke University, North Carolina, with a mixed group of junior doctors and administrators (as managers were then called) to compare US healthcare delivery with that in the NHS. He began his research career in 1970 in the professorial medical unit under the leadership of Stanley Peart. David’s research was first focused on control of the adrenal gland, which naturally progressed to endocrinological aspects of hypertension. He was appointed as a lecturer (honorary senior registrar) in 1973 and was involved with specialist hypertension clinics and was responsible for the investigation and management of patients with disorders of the adrenal gland (‘Plasma-noradrenaline in essential hypertension.’ Lancet. 1977 May 21;1[8021]:1078-81). He undertook a doctoral research project ‘The control of cortisol and aldosterone secretion in man’, which resulted in the award of an MD by the University of London in 1982.

In 1977 David was appointed as a senior lecturer in medicine at the University of Manchester with honorary consultant status at Manchester Royal Infirmary, first in the professorial unit of S W Stanbury [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.465], later headed by Stephen Tomlinson. David provided an excellent service for patients with hypertension and developed a productive collaboration with colleagues in the obstetric unit at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, which resulted in several publications (‘Pregnancy-associated hypertension, a comparison of its prediction by 'roll-over test' and plasma noradrenaline measurement in 100 primigravidae.’ Br J Obstet Gynaecol. 1983 Nov;90[11]:1027-32; ‘The management of pregnancy in hypertensive patients.’ Postgrad Med J. 1994 Nov;70(829):790-7).

David took on many roles to support students, staff and patients; amongst other roles, he was an elected member of the University Senate, a member of the Central Manchester Health Authority and chairman of the BMA clinical audit committee. In the latter stages of his career David played a major part in medical education in Manchester. From 1995 until his retirement he was hospital dean, introducing the new clinical curriculum within the Manchester Royal Infirmary and linked district general hospitals. He was a great advocate for students and provided wise counsel on the wards, in the clinic and when approached by an individual experiencing problems. He substantially re-edited the second edition of Notes on clinical method (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1982), contributed to by many of the senior clinicians in Manchester and which provided a pragmatic introduction to clinical medicine aimed at medical students new to the wards. The introduction to the book exemplifies David’s emphasis on the privilege of being a doctor and the responsibility we all have to patients in our care: ‘...your first professional contact with in hospital…these are people who are not only apprehensive about illness but are also in surroundings which are unfamiliar to them…It is a tribute to patients…that they are almost always willing to discuss their illness with students…even though they have already been examined by more than one doctor...You will also meet patients who are deaf, incommunicative or mentally disturbed: contact with such patients is important, as it develops those qualities of patience which every doctor needs.’

David met Eileen (née Kemp), a nurse and later a talented ceramicist, at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital Welwyn just after he qualified and they married on his 30th birthday. The home they returned to on their wedding day was a narrowboat on the Paddington Basin, which was by no means gentrified at that time. They had no honeymoon, but David said he was taking Eileen on a permanent cruise. In time the boat became home to their children, Laura and Alec. The family left Paddington Basin after seven years and moved to Swinton in Manchester, before settling in south Manchester. Laura is now an associate professor of music at the University of Oxford and Alec a software developer in Manchester. David had a broad hinterland of interests, which he was able to develop further in retirement and made many new friends from all walks of life. Canals were a lifelong passion, as was photography and he combined the two by making a huge contribution to the documentation, in black and white, of canal bridges all over the country. Weekend walks with Eileen almost always included a canal. He also played croquet at Bowdon Croquet Club, one of the oldest in the country.

Dian Donnai

[ICSM Gazette 26 July 2016 Obituary: Dr David Tunbridge – accessed 22 August 2016; Kingswood Association News Edition 12 – May 2016 p.44 – accessed 22 August 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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