As head of the University Surgical Unit at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London from 1960 until 1983, Gerard Taylor set standards of excellence that are rarely exceeded.
He worked almost entirely within the National Health Service, supported by a skilled and sophisticated nursing and ancillary team. He left Bart's before the systematic destruction of the NHS, and of what was once a fine teaching hospital. The provision of high-standard care on the basis of need depends upon the kind of teamwork Taylor built up over many years. Once dismantled, this will be difficult to rebuild.
Born in South Africa, where his engineer father was posted, Gerard Taylor entered Bart's with a Derby county scholarship. After graduating in 1943 he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Normandy campaign. He then started a long training with several outstanding surgeons, notably Emile Holman in San Francisco and James Paterson Ross at Bart's. He pioneered several fields, developing with John Kinmonth in 1955 what is still a standard method of using dyes to investigate lymphatic vessels by X-rays (lymphangiography).
During the Fifties there was rapid progress in methods of replacing large arteries in France, the United States and Britain and Taylor's Bart's team was at the forefront. By 1960, when he succeeded Ross to the professorship, these techniques were well established. Taylor's particular contribution was a scientific follow-up of his vascular operations, a type of study that modern imaging methods have made easier. Taylor taught the importance of selecting the appropriate operation for each particular patient and showed how those suffering leg pain on walking often improved without surgery, whereas others with constant pain from severe circulatory impairment could have their limb saved by a skilled arterial reconstruction.
Many surgical professors confine their zeal to organising undergraduate teaching and laboratory research, but Taylor saw his role more as a teacher, by example, of good clinical practice. In his unit he took the lion's share of the theatre work and was asuperb operator; his manual technique, which he spent years refining, was exceptional in its gentle precision. Apart from a special interest in carotid artery surgery, he performed thousands of operations on the thyroid and won an award for his 1983 film on surgery of the parathyroid glands. He trained generations of surgeons to aspire to a supremacy that they might otherwise have missed. Men and women who worked with him in their earlier years include Sir Miles Irving and Lord McColl, both now university professors, and many vascular and endocrine surgeons in Britain and abroad. He was at various times president of surgical societies and visiting professor at universities in Australasia, North America and Portugal.
Like Thomas Dunhill, the thyroid surgeon of 30 years earlier, Taylor had to overcome substantial difficulties in order to be accepted into a very closed Bart's establishment. He was able to do so mainly due to the foresight of James Paterson Ross, who spotted his potential. Taylor remained an approachable, friendly, quiet man with a remarkable capacity for cool concentration and free from any trace of pomposity.
After leaving Bart's at 62, he became Professor of Surgery at the university hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and continued to train surgeons. His second retirement was spent helping his wife run their small farm in Hertfordshire.
Martin Birnstingl Gerard William Taylor, surgeon: born 23 September 1920; FRCS (Hallett Prize) 1948; Fellow in Surgery, Assistant Resident, and Fulbright Scholar, Stanford University Hospital 1950-51; surgeon, St Bartholomew's Hospital 1955-83, Director,Surgical Professorial Unit 1960-83, Governor 1971; Reader in Surgery, London University 1955-60, Professor of Surgery 1960-84; Honorary Consultant to the Army 1962-95; President, Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland 1979; Professor of Surgery, King Khalid University, Saudi Arabia 1983; married 1951 Olivia Gay (one son, one daughter); died London 3 January 1995.Reuse content