Lives of the fellows

Robert Darragh Montgomery

b.10 August 1927 d.30 November 2018
BA Cantab(1948) MB BChir(1950) MRCP Edin(1956) MRCP(1958) MD(1962) FRCP Edin(1967) FRCP(1974)

Robert Montgomery was a consultant physician and gastroenterologist at East Birmingham and Solihull hospitals. He was born in Salisbury of Ulster parentage, the son of Thomas Montgomery and Mary Montgomery née Darragh (both graduates of Queen’s University Belfast). His early life was nomadic – his family moved to Aden, before heading out in 1937 to India and the Punjab, where his father had been appointed principal medical officer of the Air Forces in India.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Montgomery was sent back to England on the troopship HMS Somersetshire and, after an unhappy spell in a prep school on the south coast, was shipped on to the care of relatives in Northern Ireland. He was finally enrolled at Campbell College, Belfast, which was shortly to be evacuated to a hotel in Portrush on the North Antrim coast. From Campbell College, he won a scholarship to study medicine at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and later at the Middlesex Hospital, London. He qualified in 1950.

He was a house physician to Sir Lionel Whitby [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.444] at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, before taking up an RAF short service commission (from 1951 to 1954), where he was stationed with the Rhodesian Air Training Group based in Bulawayo.

In 1956, he travelled with his young wife Jean (née Pratt) to Kingston, Jamaica, where he was a medical registrar to E K Cruickshank [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] at the University Hospital of the West Indies. He was then appointed to the scientific staff at the Medical Research Council’s tropical metabolism research unit in Kingston, where he worked from 1958 to 1962 under J C Waterlow [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web]. Here he researched and published on the association of HTLV-1 (human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1) and tropical spastic paraparesis in malnourished infants.

Back in the UK, he joined the department of experimental medicine in Addenbrooke’s under R A McCance [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.327]. There followed two years (from 1962 to 1964) working as a senior registrar to John Anderson [Munk’s Roll, VolXI, p.14] at King’s College Hospital, London, by which time his interest in gastroenterology had developed to the stage that he finally knew that was the area of clinical work he wanted to pursue.

He was appointed as a consultant physician and gastroenterologist to East Birmingham Hospital and Solihull Hospital in 1964. During this time, he was also an honorary senior clinical lecturer in the department of medicine at Birmingham University and a visiting gastroenterologist at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He worked in Birmingham until 1987, but continued in his position in Solihull until finally retiring from the NHS in 1992.

In the course of his distinguished career he was a fellow and councillor of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and a member of the British Society of Gastroenterology; latterly he was president of both the West Midlands Physicians Association and the West Midlands Gastroenterology Society.

As well as being a caring doctor of great integrity, he had a quietly formidable intellect and carried out important research early in his career on the myeloneuropathies of Jamaica and more recently in the areas of gastric and duodenal ulcers, such that he became a national authority in this area. He published over 100 research papers and contributed chapters for several medical textbooks. He was scornful of the current arrangements for doctors to have allocated and protected research days – his research time was evenings and weekends. When he retired, he was replaced by two full-time consultants.

In his later years he wrote four volumes of memoirs exploring his family’s history in Antrim and Belfast. He accumulated a vast stamp collection and on good days could manage a competitive round of golf. He developed Alzheimer’s disease in his mid-seventies, which slowly but surely led to his withdrawal from the world. He carried his disability through his final years with great dignity and fortitude, dying peacefully in his own bed at home in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was survived by Jean, his wife of 60 years, two sons, Charles and Richard, a daughter, Joanna, and four grandchildren.

Charles Montgomery

[BMJ 2019 364 910 – accessed 12 March 2019]

(Volume XII, page web)

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