Obituary: Donald Barlow
Saturday 06 August 1994
WITH THE DEATH of Donald Barlow, the age of the 'general surgeons' has, perhaps, passed, but one may hope that the next generation of surgeons will have the good fortune to work with a colleague as splendid as he was. He died at the age of 89, just one day after he had reached that age.
Barlow went to Whitgift School, Croydon, and thence to University College Hospital, London, for his medical training. There he graduated, as was possible in those days, at the age of 21, having first passed as MRCS, LRCP and later in the year the London MB BS with honours. Three years later he passed the examination for the Fellowship of the College of Surgeons of England at the age of 24. At that time, and maybe it is still so, no one could become a fellow of the college until he was 25 and so he had to wait one year for his degree. Two years later, in 1930, he passed the examination for the Mastership of Surgery at London University at possibly the youngest age ever recorded and tied for the Gold Medal.
After qualification, he had posts as a house surgeon and as a registrar (there were no Senior Registrars in those days) in several different hospitals, but in 1936, when he was 31, he was appointed to his first consultant post at the Southend Hospital, where he continued to work until he retired, and four years later he was appointed as a general surgeon to the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, another post which he held until retirement in 1970.
Barlow was appointed to the staff of the London Chest Hospital shortly after the Second World War and I had the good fortune to get to that hospital as his Senior Registrar a short time later. At Southend and at Luton he was then known as 'General Surgeon', but at the London Chest Hospital he was a specialist 'Thoracic Surgeon'. He must have been one of the very last general surgeons in Britain, as many of the now recognised specialities were in their infancy at that time. In 1948 the Association of Thoracic Surgeons was able to meet in a ward in the London Chest Hospital; there were only 15 of them. Barlow was one of these. Now there are nearly 200.
As was the custom in the early Fifties, Barlow was appointed to several other hospitals, including the Italian Hospital near Soho, in central London. He invented several surgical instruments and several new operations. He made important contributions to oesophageal surgery of which he was the leading exponent at the London Chest Hospital.
There was another part of his career in which he made important contributions. In effect, he set up thoracic surgery in Ceylon, where he went in the early Fifties and again in the late Sixties. There, rightly, he became an honorary MB BS Ceylon.
Donald Barlow drove enormous distances in his old Rolls-Royce between Southend, London, Luton and his home in Harpenden. He was perhaps the most peripatetic thoracic surgeon of all time. I had the good luck to work for him and with him for almost all the period he was at the London Chest Hospital and in all those years we never had a cross word - with Barlow it would have been impossible.
He was a tremendous enthusiast in everything that he did and some of us thought he was a boy who never grew up. He once made a film of himself doing a sword- swallowing act, which he showed at a professional meeting - he had never done it before or since.
He was married in 1934 to Elizabeth Maciver, who had been the Theatre Sister at Great Ormond Street Hospital. They had five children, one of whom - John - is also a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.
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