Lives of the fellows

Robert Desmond Gibson Creery

b.12 June 1921 d.26 March 2017
MB BCh BAO Belf(1943) MD(1947) DCH(1948) MRCP(1951) VRD(1964) FRCP(1971)

Desmond Creery was a consultant paediatrician on South Tyneside and then in Cheltenham and Gloucester. He was born in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, the son of William Foster Creery, an ex-regular Army officer and an officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (rising to chief of police for County Fermanagh), and Blanche Isabel Maude Creery née Orr. His father had also been in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War as a navigator and on one occasion survived being shot down in Mesopotamia.

Desmond was educated at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, where he was head of house and a notable long-distance runner and boxer. His eldest son, John Michael, following in his footsteps, was also educated at Portora (founded in 1608).

In 1938, Desmond entered medical school at Queen’s University Belfast, where he had distinctions in anatomy and physiology, held the Malcolm exhibition and gained the gold medal in paediatrics. He also represented the university at athletics. He qualified in 1943. Continuing his student interest and promise in paediatrics, he became a house physician at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, though this was interrupted by war service.

In 1944, Desmond joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) as a surgeon lieutenant and served afloat and ashore in the East Indies and Far East. After the war, he was a permanent member of the RNVR, retiring in 1964 as a surgeon commander with the Volunteer Reserve Decoration, awarded for long service.

During his postgraduate paediatric training he worked in London at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children with Helen Mackay [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.253], the Southmead Hospital in Bristol with Victor Neale [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.355] and Beryl Corner [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], and in Belfast with Fred Allen [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.13] and Robert Marshall [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.330]. During this period, he contributed many papers on infantile hypercalcaemia and other paediatric subjects.

Failing to obtain a consultant appointment in his native Ulster, in 1956 he was appointed as the first consultant paediatrician on South Tyneside. There in the industrial atmosphere of South Shields he found tremendous paediatric challenges and forged happy professional links with the medical school in Newcastle and with colleagues in Sunderland.

In this busy period of his career he found time to publish useful practical contributions on neonatal hypoglycaemia, hypertrophic pyloric stenosis and an original description of talc granuloma of the umbilicus. Clinical teaching in the university paediatric school kept him in touch with students during this time and his naval association continued as medical officer at the Tyneside unit of the Royal Marine Forces Volunteer Reserve. This was a commando unit and Desmond was awarded the coveted ‘green beret’ at the age of 40.

Not wishing to spend his entire career in one post, he moved to Gloucestershire in 1966 as a consultant paediatrician, working in both Cheltenham and Gloucester originally, but in his later years he was chiefly occupied in setting up a comprehensive paediatric service in Cheltenham and Cirencester with outlying clinics in other main towns of the Cotswolds and wider county.

It was in Cheltenham that he became deeply involved in postgraduate education and was one the founders of the Cheltenham Postgraduate Medical Centre and its associated medical club, of which he was chairman and later secretary. He was clinical tutor from 1967 to 1981.

During his 17 years in Gloucestershire he was much involved with paediatric administration both regionally (as paediatric adviser to the regional health authority) and nationally (as a council member of the British Paediatric association). He was the first chairman of the regional manpower committee, a member of the regional postgraduate education committee and served on the South West Regional Health Authority from 1978 to 1982. He was chairman of the Cheltenham medical staff committee from 1980 to 1983, and was medical representative of the area and district management teams of the Gloucestershire and Cheltenham Health Authorities.

With Alan McDermott, a Bristol cytogeneticist, he introduced a genetic counselling service at Cheltenham. On several occasions, he acted as visiting paediatrician and travelling doctor to the International Grenfell Association in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

In 1983 Desmond moved to Guernsey. From 1984 to 1989 he was medical officer for schools and deputy medical officer of health for the Bailiwick of Guernsey and unofficially considered himself a ‘community paediatrician’ as such posts were becoming common in the UK.

In his retirement, he enjoyed travelling to faraway places including New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, Hong Kong and many parts of Europe.

He was an avid gardener (which he referred to as unpaid hard labour) and also a keen reader. He had a good singing voice and enjoyed singing Irish and Navy songs while doing the dishes.

He lived in Saint Saviour in Guernsey by the reservoir, where he spent many hours trout fishing. He was mentally sharp and witty until the end. Desmond loved watching cricket and rugby on TV. A week before he died he chatted on the phone about the Irish rugby win over England.

Desmond was married twice. His first wife was Dorothy Marguerite née Balm; his second, Annette. He had five children, none of whom followed him into medicine, however, his third son, an ex-Hong Kong police officer, has now become a nurse. He was survived by his second wife Annette in Guernsey, his five children, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren in the UK, Belgium and Canada.

John Michael Creery

[BMJ 2017 357 2036 www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j2036 – accessed 22 April 2018]

(Volume XII, page web)

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