Peter Wright

Former President of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists
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The Independent Online

Peter Wright, ophthalmologist: born London 7 September 1932; Lecturer in Anatomy and Physiology, Guy's Hospital Medical School 1959-61; House Surgeon and Senior Resident, Moorfields Eye Hospital 1961-65, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon 1973-94, Surgical Tutor 1981-86, Consulting Ophthalmic Surgeon 1994; Lecturer in Physiology, Institute of Ophthalmology 1965-68, Clinical Sub-Dean 1980-86; Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, King's College Hospital 1966-78; Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, Sydenham Children's Hospital 1967-73; Consultant Adviser, Department of Health 1988-2003; President, Royal College of Ophthalmologists 1991-94; married 1960 Ella Donoghue (two daughters, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1992); died Bovey Tracey, Devon 26 May 2003.

Peter Wright was one of the most widely talented contributors to his chosen field of ophthalmology.

Born in 1932 in Camberwell, south London, into a non-medical family he was brought up through early childhood in the same area. Later educated at St Clement Danes and King's College London, he studied Medicine at King's College Hospital, graduating MB BS in 1955. While a medical student Wright simultaneously continued his keyboard studies with both the piano and organ on a part-time basis and at the Royal College of Music. For a time after this, he was in two minds. From which of these two interests should he try to forge a career? In later life he knew he had made the right choice. Medicine and ophthalmology were to be the professional mainspring of his life, with music as a rewarding recreation.

After one general medical junior post at King's, all his subsequent posts were in ophthalmology and, after a year as House Surgeon at King's and a second as an SHO in neurosurgery at the Guy's- Maudsley neurosurgical unit, he entered the RAF as an ophthalmic specialist to do his two-year term of National Service. For a year after this, Wright was appointed as a lecturer in physiology and anatomy at Guy's Hospital Medical School and from here he was appointed to "The House" at Moorfields Eye Hospital for the three years training as House Surgeon and Senior Resident Officer.

Academia still beckoned, and his term at Moorfields was followed by a year as a senior lecturer in physiology at the Institute of Ophthalmology, where his progress would have been keenly observed by the Director, Sir Stewart Duke-Elder. After only one year as a Senior Registrar back at King's College Hospital, Wright was appointed as a consultant to King's and, for a short period soon after, to a further post as consultant to Sydenham Children's Hospital.

These extra sessions were then replaced by a part-time appointment to Moorfields as Consultant-in-Charge of the External Disease Service, the establishment of which was the work of the then Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology at the Institute of Ophthalmology and at Moorfields, Barrie Jones. The establishment of special clinics in the various parts of the speciality was one of the main ways in which Jones changed the clinical face of ophthalmology throughout the United Kingdom.

Wright, already an established national authority in external disease, strongly supported Jones's efforts, and used this post to hone his own expertise, and to transform the understanding and management of the various problematic and often chronic disorders involved. His research activities included collaborative studies in skin and eye diseases with dermatological and immunological colleagues. This work lead to the identification of the Practolol oculocutaneous reaction and a continuing interest in adverse drug reactions, work which resulted in widespread international recognition. In 1978 Wright resigned from King's College Hospital and transferred to Moorfields entirely, initially part-time, but later as a full-time consultant.

A member of multiple medical and ophthalmic bodies, Wright contributed extensively with lectures, papers and teaching, including no less than six named lectureships. He served as President in turn of the Southern Ophthalmological Society, the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom and the Section of Ophthalmology of the Royal Society of Medicine, and finally, in 1991-94, as the second president of the newly formed Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

A man of such immense talent in a single arena would be one thing, but throughout his career Wright maintained his active interest in serious pianism, serious gardening and serious cooking. Nothing was ever taken on lightly. Extremely bright as he was himself, although mildly inclined to discount the views of lesser mortals, his kinder side always won the day. Equipped with a quiet but penetrating wit, he was supremely good company for his many friends to whom he was generous with his hospitality in the extreme. Medical, musical and horticultural friends were often happily mixed in with family and neighbours.

Peter Wright married in 1960 Ella Donoghue and together they had two daughters and a son. The marriage was dissolved in 1992, but a devastating blow had fallen upon this family when, in 1988, their son, Andrew, was a victim in the Lockerbie air disaster as a passenger on Pan Am 103.

Following the end of his college presidency, Wright retired from active practice and settled with his partner John Morris in Bovey Tracey, Devon. Wright busied himself in the local music scene, opening their house to a regular annual series of concerts, supporting various local and national charities. The music room had to be large enough to house two grand pianos as well as an audience. Together, Wright and Morris transformed three acres of somewhat soggy meadow into a garden of delight, which was opened to the public only a few days before Wright died.

Arthur D. McG. Steele.

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