Lives of the fellows

Arthur Sinclair Alvarez

b. 24 May 1930 d.8 October 2017
MB ChB Birm(1954) MRCS LRCP(1954) MRCP(1959) FRCP(1976)

Arthur Sinclair Alvarez was a consultant physician in geriatric medicine in Leicester. He was born into a Jewish family in Finchley, north London. His father was Jacob (Jack) Alvarez; his mother, Rose Victoria Alvarez née Simons. He was educated at Highgate School, after which he spent time in Paris, attending lectures and broadening his general education. His instinctive friendliness and interest in others led him to select a medical career and he enrolled as a first-year medical student at Birmingham University in 1948, at a time when a significant proportion of his fellow students were ex-Servicemen. He flourished in this environment, took an active part in student societies and represented his university at fencing.

Qualifying in 1954, he did house jobs at the United Birmingham Teaching Hospitals and subsequently worked as a senior house officer at the Central Middlesex Hospital in London, where he was much influenced by his chief, Francis Avery Jones [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web]. He then served as a resident medical officer at the London Chest Hospital for one year. These were the early exciting days of the National Health Service and Arthur felt that his personality and catholic interests might make him suited to a career in general practice. Regrettably, he found himself in a practice that was far from ideal and became disenchanted with his choice. He might have made a fine and dedicated GP, and he occasionally commented on the part that serendipity plays in the choice of a career.

Searching for a more satisfying outlet, Arthur spent valuable time at Pfizer carrying out research, but missed the contact with patients, so he decided to return to a clinical environment. He moved to Sunderland and joined Eluned Woodford-Williams’ [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.550] geriatric service as a trainee. Very soon he found that he had made a wise choice. He held Woodford-Williams in the highest regard and thought of her as his mentor. Indeed, in his subsequent career he was faced with similar problems to those existing in Sunderland, namely the setting up of a functional service for the elderly in a relatively underprivileged setting. When appointed to the first dedicated consultant geriatric post in Leicester, he adopted similar strategies to those he had experienced during his training, with equally outstanding results. He rapidly organised a comprehensive system providing care for the elderly throughout the county, operating initially from geographically scattered small units. He then concentrated provision in the Leicester General Hospital. He was wedded to the concept that the elderly required and deserved the same standard of care as available to others, and made it his mission to prevent the institutionalisation of the chronic sick by facilitating their care in the community with appropriate medical support. He also served on several secondments to the NHS advisory services dealing with the provision of geriatrics. As a result of his work it was possible to set up an academic department of geriatrics with the arrival of a new medical school in 1975.

Towards the middle of the 1980s, Arthur began to have cardiac problems. Then, perhaps intuitively, he began to reduce his workload. The collapse of his first marriage had taken its toll; he became part time in 1990 and retired fully in 1992. His retirement was marked by a lifetime achievement award from the British Geriatrics Society, which recorded him as one of its earliest members.

In 2005, while recovering from a cardiac bypass operation, he was involved in a road accident in which he sustained a fractured odontoid peg and was fortunate to survive. His cervical spine was pinned, but he remained somewhat disabled for the rest of his life. But his active interest in the world around him continued. He had previously trained as a counsellor and worked voluntarily in this field for some years. Regrettably though, he had to give up his favourite hobby of dressage.

With time, Arthur began to realise that his health problems were more sinister than mere forgetfulness, and he adjusted his life to face the onset of increasing dementia. His subsequent years provide an exemplar of how to live well in spite of chronic disability. He had mastered the art of bookbinding and offered his services to the Royal Society of Medicine; this was recognised with the award of a life fellowship. Latterly, Arthur became interested in sculpture and this proved to be the mainstay of the final period of his life. He twice won first prize at the Royal Society of Medicine’s art exhibition and also exhibited at other venues, including the Royal College of Physicians. Remarkably, he continued to produce high quality work after many of his other cognitive abilities had failed him. Throughout his prolonged illness, he remained positive and cheerful, never raging ‘against the dying of the light’.

Arthur was married in 1961 to Della Casket and they had two children, Kitty and David, who were a great joy to him throughout his life. His marriage to Della eventually failed and they were divorced in 1984. He was married again to a widow, Jane Falk, in 1993, and again found the happy family life that he yearned for. After some years in London, he and Jane moved to a village in Sussex and remained close to both Arthur and Jane’s children and grandchildren. Jane cared for him devotedly until the very end.

Felix Beck

(Volume XII, page web)

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