Lives of the fellows

Joseph Elmhirst Cates

b.22 June 1914 d.27 January 1994
MRCS LRCP(1936) MB BS Lond(1937) MD(1939) MRCP(1946) FRCP(1956) Hon MD Bristol(1981)

Joe Cates made two greatly valued contributions to medical practice in Bristol and the South West of England. He was an immensely able and dedicated clinician and an outstanding postgraduate dean to the University, with a record period of service. The son of a doctor and grandson of a Yorkshire vicar, he was educated at Clifton College and St Bartholomew’s Medical School, University of London. Qualifying in 1936, he was a true product of the eminent of the day -being taught successively by Horder [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p. 198], Witts [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.618] and Christie [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.86]. After qualification he spent the next ten years at Bart’s, most of them on the medical professorial unit as first assistant to R V Christie, with whom he co-ordinated the nation-wide trials of penicillin treatment in subacute bacterial endocarditis. Their joint paper reporting the successful results remains a classic. His long career in academic medicine was interrupted during the six years of his wartime service in the RNVR from 1940 to 1946. He served on minesweepers and destroyers and rose to the rank of surgeon lieutenant commander.

In 1950 he became first assistant and senior lecturer to Bruce Perry for a further ten years. Endocrinology became his special interest, sharpened by spending a year with Luetscher in San Francisco, USA, working on newly recognized aldosterone. In 1961 he moved over to a NHS post as a consultant physician. At the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Southmead Hospital he soon enjoyed a huge clinical practice. At the peak of his career he was in charge of about sixty acute medical beds, ran numerous out-patient clinics including a long and demanding diabetic clinic - and was constantly in demand in domiciliary practice and private consultations. He was a gifted and conscientious teacher, but, despite his academic background, he was essentially a patient’s man. He was never so happy as when faced with puzzling and complicated clinical problems, yet he also had a soul of kindness and solace.

His attachment to the University continued and he was appointed the first postgraduate dean, serving for an unbroken twenty three years. Not everyone wanted to see the university supervizing teaching programmes in hospitals and general practice. There was ample scope for envy and obstruction, but Joe’s quiet, coaxing manner, his understanding and consistency, soon smoothed ruffled feathers and he became widely respected. This was all accomplished in tandem with his busy clinical life. He read widely and his knowledge of medical literature was comprehensive. He was thoroughly at home with every type of medical problem.

He married Mary Elizabeth Moore in 1955. She was herself a doctor and ran a demanding general practice. Being also academically gifted, she greatly helped her husband. They had a family of six children and Joe’s work and family totally filled his life until his final illness. His manner was reserved but always friendly. To his close friends he showed a warmth that was not apparent to others. Seriousness, total honesty and great patience were the hallmarks of his character.

D W Barritt

[Brit.med.J.,1994,308,1234]

(Volume X, page 59)

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