Lives of the fellows

Eric Cory Allibone

b.20 January 1905 d.15 December 1990
MRCS LRCP(1934) MB ChB Leeds(1934) MD(1936) MRCP(1936) DPM(1940) PhD Birm(1947) FRCP(1954)

Eric Allibone, a Yorkshireman and proud of it, was the son of Abraham Cory Allibone, a solicitor who was a senior local government officer to the former West Riding of Yorkshire with its headquarters at Wakefield. When he left Wakefield Grammar School, Erics heart was already set on a medical career but his father was adamant that he should join the economic foundation of the West Riding, the textile industry. Eric joined a firm in his native Wakefield and attended a diploma course in textiles at Leeds University.

A language scholarship then took him to work for a year with a textile firm m Berlin but on his return he found the industry badly hit by recession. He was therefore able to turn to his own choice of career. His father agreed, but only on condition that Eric should never fail any examinations - a condition which was fully met. He entered the Leeds medical school and graduated with honours.

His first post at Leeds General Infirmary was as house physician to Wilfred Vining [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.445] who, at that time, was physician to adults and children but later became the first (part-time) professor of paediatrics at Leeds. After a further house post in Leeds he spent six months as house physician at the Hammersmith Hospital, London, his only clinical venture outside his native Yorkshire.

Eric returned to Leeds in 1935 as RMO, a post so arduous, especially for one as conscientious as Eric Allibone, that pulmonary tuberculosis was a well recognized complication of the appointment and one which he duly developed. This did not prevent him from obtaining his membership of the College and proceeding MD (Leeds) with distinction. He spent a further two years in Leeds as University tutor before moving to Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 1940, first as RMO and later as registrar. Here, in one of the leading British paediatric centres of the time, he first encountered academic paediatrics in the setting of a large children’s hospital, which clearly fired his enthusiasm.

Despite a heavy workload, accentuated by the absence of so many doctors on war service, he co-authored a number of publications and was awarded the degree of PhD (Birmingham). When the chair of paediatrics in Leeds fell vacant in 1946, he would dearly have loved to occupy it but this was not to be.

In 1948, the year in which the NHS began, he was appointed as the first NHS consultant paediatrician in Leeds. He was responsible for half the city’s sick children, most of the domiciliary and private practice and a substantial teaching commitment, all done with minimal supporting staff. When he retired from the NHS in 1970 he was still the only NHS consultant paediatrician in Leeds and there were no NHS senior registrars.

Eric’s clinical work was characterized by unhurried attention to detail and a determination to keep abreast of the burgeoning paediatric literature.His teachings, as well as everyday conversations, were Enlivened humour which endeared him to students and junior medical staff alike. He always had time to listen and his catch phrases were common currency among his colleagues, by whom he was always referred to as ‘Uncle Eric’: ‘the daffodil look’, or reference to a baby as ‘in vacant or in pensive mood’, carried a much better prognosis than ‘wrap me up in my tarpaulin jacket’.

He was devoted to his mother who lived with him in her closing years and this care, together with his very full clinical life, no doubt accounts for his relatively late marriage. In 1954 he married Eleanor Brook Outon, a paediatric pathologist with Irish roots, who worked at St James Hospital, Leeds. In due course she presented him with two daughters and a son.

On ‘retirement’ from his consultant post in 1970 he entered full-time general practice, continuing until he was almost 80, and was also clinical assistant to a large hospital for the mentally handicapped. Once asked if he did not think that he might have lost touch with mainstream medicine, he replied without rancour that most of his patients were elderly and just needed somebody to listen, which he was capable of doing.

Outside medicine he managed a large garden, listened to good music, took beautiful photographs and devoted the same pains to woodwork and metalwork as he did to his clinical work. When he finally gave up all clinical practice he adapted to domestic life, mastering the microwave by patient attention to the instruction manual and helping to give the same care to his elderly mother-in-law as he had given to his own mother. In clinical affairs he was a work horse rather than a race horse, more concerned with judgement than with style. As a person he was the archetypal Yorkshireman, prepared to say exactly what he thought - when others thought the same but minced their words - but with a boyish chuckle at his own candour and never a hint of malice.

Until a few days before his death, Eric Allibone enjoyed good health and was alertly interested in everything that was going on.

R W Smithells

[Brit.med.J., 1991,302,525]

(Volume IX, page 7)

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