OBITUARIES : Richard Bonham Carter
Monday 20 February 1995
Bonham (as he was usually called by his colleagues) was born into a family with wide ramifications, numerous members of which were and are prominent in public affairs. His older brother, Christopher, followed a naval career, rising to the rank of Rear-Admiral, while his own bent was always academic: he shone as a schoolboy at Clifton, also on the playing fields, then at Cambridge (Peterhouse) where he went for his preclinical studies (BA in Natural Sciences and winning an athletics blue), and finally at St Thomas' Hospital Medical School, in London.
His clinical career started as a House Officer at St Thomas' Hospital, obtaining his Membership of the Royal College of Physicians unusually early, in 1938, elected Fellow in 1950. An appointment as House Physician to the Hospital of Sick Children, Great Ormond Street ("GOS"), was intended as a brief look at paediatrics, but it kindled an interest that dominated the rest of his medical career, during which he became one of the leading paediatricians of his generation. He was one of a dwindling number who practised for many years in the whole range of children's diseases, and specialised further only late in their careers, in his case in paediatric cardiology.
At the outbreak of the Second World War Dick Bonham Carter was appointed to the Emergency Medical Service, but moved to the Ministry of Health where he organised the provision of medical services to children evacuated from London.
In 1942 he enlisted as Medical Officer in the First Airborne Division, rising to the rank of major. After serving in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, he took part in 1944 in the "drop" at Arnhem, where he was captured. Although he rarely spoke of his wartime experience, it affected him deeply and lastingly. He was liberated in 1945 and returned to the Ministry of Health where, under Sir Francis Frazer, he helped restore the interrupted careers of doctors involved in the war. He went in 1947 as Assistant to Alan Moncrieff, the first Professor of Paediatrics at the (newly established) Institute of Child Health, the academic part of GOS. Two years later he was appointed Consultant Physician to the hospital where he specialised in diseases of the heart, combining this post with a similar one at University Hospital.
His work took a decisive turn in the early 1950s. With his surgical colleague at GOS David Waterston, he established the Thoracic Unit, the first joint medical and surgical ward anywhere devoted entirely to the diagnosis and treatment of children with chest and heart diseases.
It was largely Bonham Carer's vision and initiative in the late 1950s which produced the plan to build an addition to the hospital so that all the services and research facilities dedicated to the study, diagnosis and treatment of congenital heart disease would be contained under one roof. Building was to start in the early 1960s, but various problems - financial, political and bureaucratic - had to be overcome. But his original concept was finally realised in what is now known as the Cardiac Wing of GOS, opened formally in 1988.
Bonham Carter had the gift of immediate rapport with children of all ages (and their parents). Clinical acumen and intuition together with high intelligence and a phenomenal memory for events, faces and facts made him into a superb doctor. His "private" practice largely consisted of the children of his colleagues and friends - the highest accolade.
Dick Bonham Carter was the least pompous of men and disliked pomposity and pretentiousness in others. His most endearing traits were his wit and humour. With all his great gifts and accomplishments he was a modest person (as one of his senior colleagues once said to me, "he could afford to be") and treated everyone alike, without any thought of hierarchy.
If his professional centre was at GOS, his personal one was with his family. At his death he had been married to Margaret for nearly 50 years; he was never happier than at their home in Scotland, surrounded by children, grandchildren and friends (not to mention his sheep).
Richard Erskine Bonham Carter, paediatrician: born Fortalloch, Argyll 27 August 1910: Consultant Physician, Hospital for Sick Children 1947- 75, University College Hospital 1948-66; married 1946 Margaret Stacey; died Knebworth, Hertfordshire 18 December 1994.
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