Lives of the fellows

Norman Brandon Capon

b.14 June 1892 d.7 January 1975
MB ChB Liverp(1916) MD(1921) MRCP(1922) FRCP(1931) FRCOG(1957)

Norman Brandon Capon was born in Liverpool, the youngest son of a well-known Liverpool dentist, Robert M. Capon. His mother, Agnes Jane Cheshire, came from the Wirral. Of his two brothers, Robert and Philip, Philip was a greatly respected Liverpool dental practitioner and orthodontist and a one-time President of the British Dental Association.

Norman was educated at Liverpool College and the University of Liverpool. President of the Guild of Undergraduates in 1914, he graduated in 1916 with a first-class honours degree, with distinctions in medicine and obstetrics and gynaecology. Three years’ service in the RAMC, with the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain, were followed by a year as Ethel Boyce Fellow in the University Department of Obstetrics, and in 1921 by his proceeding to MD with special merit. He became MRCP in 1922 and FRCP in 1931.

From 1920 to 1924 he was a Research Worker for the Medical Research Council. He was appointed Clinical Assistant to the newlyborn at the Liverpool Maternity Hospital in 1923, which was one of the first such appointments in England, Honorary Physician to the Royal Liverpool Babies’ Hospital in 1924 and in 1925 Honorary Physician to the Royal Southern Hospital and Lecturer in Clinical Medicine in the University of Liverpool. In 1935 he became Visiting Physician to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Honorary Assistant Physician to the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital and Lecturer in Diseases of Children in the University, and in 1939 Honorary Physician to the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital.

During those years he was, for varying periods of time, Lecturer in Applied Anatomy and Lecturer in Medicine in the University, Medical Officer in charge of an infant clinic of the Liverpool Child Welfare Association, Honorary Paediatrician to Warrington Infirmary and the Liverpool Child Guidance Clinic, Consulting Paediatrician to Birkenhead and Wirral Children’s Hospital, Birkenhead Maternity Hospital and West Kirby Convalescent Home, and Medical Officer to the Ministry of Pensions.

From 1944 to 1957 he was the first Professor of Child Health and Director (Part-time) of the Department of Child Health in the University of Liverpool. As a result of his capacity for stimulating cooperation, in this case in Liverpool between the University, the Voluntary Hospital and the City Council, the Department was blessed from the start with clinical facilities in Alder Hey and the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospitals larger than in any other medical school in Britain.

Under his direction the Department grew steadily and, on his retirement in 1957, the Senate acclaimed him as follows:

"Professor Norman Capon has had the satisfaction of being the first holder of the Chair of Child Health in the University of which he himself was once a student and the President of the Guild of Undergraduates. In him the gentle physician, the gifted teacher, and the loyal colleague have been combined so that under his direction the Department of Child Health has flourished abundantly. The University owes him an additional debt of gratitude for the uncovenanted blessing of the quiet influence of his character, both private and professional, upon the young men and women entering his great profession."

On his retirement from the Chair and its related hospital appointments he was appointed Emeritus Professor and for the next five years continued clinical work and some undergraduate and postgraduate teaching as Consultant Paediatrician to Olive Mount Children’s Hospital for the Mentally Handicapped. He also assisted the Liverpool Regional Hospital Board as Chairman of its Medical Advisory Council. Thereafter he was Honorary Consultant Paediatrician to the Liverpool Regional Hospital Board and the United Liverpool Hospitals.

He served on the Council of the Royal College of Physicians; was an Honorary Member of the Association of Physicians; President of the Paediatric Section of the Royal Society of Medicine, of the Section of Child Health of the British Medical Association, and of the Section of Maternal and Child Health of the Royal Society of Health (1956); original member, President (1951-52) and Honorary Member of the British Paediatric Association; President (1952) and Life Member of the Liverpool Medical Institution; and President of the Liverpool Paediatric Club (1949-1975).

He was appointed Milroy Lecturer (1941), Charles West Lecturer (1949), Blackham Memorial Lecturer (1955), Lloyd Roberts Lecturer in Manchester (1955), and Convocation Lecturer of the National Children’s Home (1947). In 1955 he was awarded the Dawson Williams Prize for his contribution to neonatal paediatrics.

He served on many Medical Research Council subcommittees, on the Ministry of Health BCG Subcommittee, and was a member of the Platt Committee on the Welfare of Children in Hospital. He acted as external examiner in the University of Birmingham and examined for the Diploma of Child Health of the Royal College of Physicians.

Norman Capon was a true generalist in outlook and practice and, until he occupied the Chair of Child Health, his patients included both adults and children. He regarded as within his province all aspects of paediatrics and he took a special interest in the welfare of a child’s mother and family.

His publications included chapters on ‘The Genito-Urinary System’ in Parsons and Barling’s Diseases of Infancy and Childhood (1954); ‘The Newlyborn Baby’, in Moncrieff and Evans’ Diseases of Children (1953); ‘Neonatal Morbidity and Mortality’ in Holland and Bourne’s British Obstetric and Gynaecological Practice (1955); ‘The Examination of Sick Children’ in Symptoms and Signs in Clinical Medicine by E. Noble Chamberlain (4th Edition); ‘Medical Emergencies in Infancy and Childhood’ in Emergencies in Medical Practice, edited by C. Allan Birch, Edinburgh (1954); and ‘Diet and Dental Health’ in Dental Health, edited by H.H. Stones (1956).

In 1922 he reported to the Medical Research Council on 200 Cases of Stillbirth, and on 38 Cases of Neonatal Death (MRC Report No. 109, Special Report Series, 1926); and in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Empire (1922) on ‘Intracranial Traumata in the Newborn’ and on "General Oedema of the Foetus". In this connection it is of interest that during that year when he was conducting research on babies born hydropic he wrote to a friend, Bernard Chavasse, who was working in Oxford on blood groups to ask if he thought the condition of such babies might be due to blood incompatibility. It was to be twenty years before that question was answered in the affirmative.

During the next twenty-five years he wrote a number of papers on haemorrhagic disease and other disorders of the newborn, neonatal mortality and morbidity and the care of the healthy neonate; but he also contributed articles on the health of older children and a great variety of their disorders including tuberculosis and septicaemia; endocrine, blood and bone diseases; rheumatic and other cardiac conditions; alimentary symptoms and signs and dietetic idiosyncracies; malnutrition; cerebral palsy and other organic disorders of the nervous system; mental handicap; speech disorders; emotional disturbances; and some rarer conditions including gargoylism of which, with R.W.B. Ellis and W. Sheldon, he gave one of the original descriptions.

The most striking features of his approach to patients were expressions of his attitude to his fellow men in general, which was characterized by courtesy and consideration for others and an intense eagerness to help those in need. His own words, written to students about to clerk on his patients, included the following:

"Whenever possible, try to imagine yourself in the patient’s place: this exercise will help both him and you."

"Be thoughtful of your patient’s feelings and comfort during examination; not only is this reasonably to be expected of you, but it also increases the accuracy of the examination."

"Remember the human aspect of your work. You are dealing with people who are physically and sometimes mentally diseased, therefore call up all the sympathy and tact at your command. Be kind, gentle and thoughtful in your dealings with them. Gaiety may be out of place when the patient is very ill, but it is better to be cheerful and buoyant than to be unresponsive and dull."

His consideration for others contributed to the care he took with his beautifully legible handwriting and his aim always to speak in a manner designed to put his audience at their ease, which he achieved to the full in his delightfully easy and humorous after-dinner speeches. He was a keen member of the Liverpool University Club, of which he was President in 1949-50.

During the 1920’s his cooperation with some two dozen kindred spirits led in 1928 to the foundation of the British Paediatric Association, and many will remember the friendly welcome they, as new boys, received from Norman Capon. His sense of fun was often in evidence and, coupled with his friendliness, made him a great companion. For him and his wife that capacity for companionship must have gone a long way to compensate for their lack of children of their own.

In 1924 he married Dorothy, daughter of W.H. Packer, MD a general practitioner in Shropshire. On his retirement Norman and his wife lived at Grey Gables, Llanbedr, near Ruthin, Denbighshire, where many of their friends were also in retirement, and they were able to continue the active social life they enjoyed. After his wife’s death in 1966 he lived alone and remained healthy and active, mentally and physically, enjoying his walks in the countryside, his garden and his books until his final illness overtook him a few months before his death in the Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool, where for many years he had served on the consultant staff.

JD Hay

[, 1975, 1, 338; Lancet, 1975, 1, 174]

(Volume VI, page 89)

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