OBITUARIES : Geoffrey Flavell

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The Independent Online
Surgeons, by the nature of their work, seldom attract the publicity which comes to the leaders of other professions, such as politics and the arts, or sport. Only rarely does a Christiaan Barnard, by making a spectacular advance in transplant sur gery, become a public figure. Yet there are surgeons who, within their own profession, have star status, celebrated for the quality of their work, and the contribution they have made to advancing methods and knowledge.

One such man was Geoffrey Flavell, the cardio-thoracic surgeon. He was born in New Zealand, read pre-clinical medicine at Otago University, and completed his training at Bart's, in London. He studied under the remarkable Sir William Girling Ball, the original of the book and film character Sir Lancelot Spratt. Flavell qualified in 1937, and by 1939 had become the resident surgical officer at the Brompton Hospital, and had gained the FRCS and the MRCP.

During the Second World War he served in the RAF Volunteer Reserve, holding senior surgical posts in Egypt and North Africa. He worked closely with this fellow countryman Sir Archibald Macindoe, of Guinea Pig fame, in treating the severely burned.

In 1950 Flavell was appointed a consultant at theLondon Hospital, where he served with constantly increasing distinction for the next 30 years. His operating techniques became so celebrated that they were filmed and used for teaching students. Much of his work, from the 1950s onward, was concerned with cancer of the lung. He was one of the first doctors to denounce cigarette-smoking as a cause of cancer.

One of his sayings passed into medical mythology, when he declared, ``Doctors who smoke should be viewed in the same light as a clergyman who keeps a mistress.''

Geoffrey Flavell was the author of a number of works on surgery, in particular his Introduction to Chest Surgery (1957), still regarded as a major textbook. His practice became increasingly international, extending from South Africa to Singapore and the Gulf. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1973.

He was a widely cultivated man, keenly interested in literature and the arts, and a genuine connoisseur of food and wine, contributing often to Andre Simon's Food and Wine. He married in 1943 Joan Adams (``Fan'' to her friends). It was a deeply happy marriage, and Fan nursed him through the long years of suffering which cancer finally inflicted on him, suffering he bore with a characteristically good- humoured stoicism. His fellow New Zealander the classicist Sir Ronald Syme wrote an epitaph for him. Itread "Mors toties victa/ victorem vicit"; or, ``He won many battles with death, but not the last''.

Geoffrey Cox

Geoffrey Flavell, cardio-thoracic surgeon: born 22 February 1913; Senior Surgeon, Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, London Hospital 1950-78; married 1943 Joan Adams; died Bath 28 November 1994.