Lives of the fellows

Benedict Walter Powell

b.30 May 1915 d.24 October 2015
BA Cantab(1936) MB BChir(1939) MRCS LRCP(1939) MRCP(1946) DCH(1947) FRCP(1970)

Benedict Walter Powell, known as ‘Benny’, was a consultant paediatrician in Peterborough from 1953 to 1976. He was born in Shipmeadow, Suffolk, and grew up in Ipswich, where his father was a leading Anglo-Catholic clergyman. After school in Woodbridge, he went up to Selwyn College, Cambridge, in 1933, moving to St Thomas’ Hospital for his clinical studies, qualifying in 1939.

Following a house physician post at Lambeth Hospital, he enlisted in the RAMC in 1940 and was regimental medical officer to the 2nd Royal Horse Artillery regiment. The war took him to Norway, the Middle East, North Africa and Italy. He was a highly respected medical officer, being mentioned in despatches.

On his return, he was appointed as a registrar to the children’s department at St Thomas’. It was there he met his future wife, Jean, who had been a casualty charge nurse throughout the war.

A series of posts at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, followed and in 1950 he became assistant to Alan Moncrieff [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.343] at the Institute of Child Health. Along with two of his registrar colleagues, he developed TB in 1948. He was the only one of the three to survive.

He was appointed as the first consultant paediatrician to the Peterborough, Stamford and King’s Lynn hospitals in 1953. His patch covered an area more than 50 miles across. Shortly after his arrival, Peterborough suffered a polio epidemic and Benny organised the special facilities required for the care of children, including the provision of ventilators. He also supervised exchange transfusions for neonates with haemolytic disease of the newborn, a lengthy process requiring great skill, often at night and sometimes following a long drive across the Fens.

In 1962 Peterborough was designated a development town. A new hospital was built and this gave Benny the opportunity to create a paediatric unit and child development centre in the old Memorial Hospital, which opened in 1968. Innovative in its day, this became the model for many other hospital paediatric departments.

Benny was keen to expand the paediatric services at Peterborough, encouraging the appointment of extra senior and junior staff. He was an enthusiastic teacher and forged links with other departments and hospitals, Papwoth and Great Ormond Street in particular. He encouraged his junior staff to follow careers in child health, most of his registrars subsequently becoming consultant paediatricians. He was an honorary paediatric tutor at St Thomas’ Hospital.

He had many publications in The Lancet, including a paper on the treatment of respiratory paralysis in small children (Lancet. 1960 Dec 3;2[7162]:1241-3) following his experiences in the polio epidemic. He was on the council of the British Paediatric Association and honorary secretary to the paediatric section of the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM). He was keen to attend the RSM meetings in London in the days when postgraduate education was not readily available. It was following one of these meetings that he returned to Peterborough with the idea of starting a paediatric diabetic clinic, which had over 150 patients by the mid 1970s.

He did his fair share of management, being chairman of the district medical committee and a member of the area medical committee. He was chairman of the medical executive committee. Other appointments included honorary adviser to the Cystic Fibrosis Association, Peterborough branch, and honorary consultant paediatrician to the Wilfred Pickles School for Spastics at Tixover Grange, Rutland.

Benny was a gentle, kind and wise doctor who strongly supported the NHS. He advocated a broad view of child health and was particularly proud of his part in starting Riding for the Disabled in the East Midlands, with the help of his wife and his daughter’s pony, Merrylegs.

He enjoyed a long retirement near the Suffolk coast, remaining active until his late 90s. He died in his 101st year in Ipswich Hospital following a short illness.

Hugh Powell

(Volume XII, page web)

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