Obituary: Dr Elizabeth Fletcher

Elizabeth Cross, general practitioner, born West Runcton Norfolk 26 August 1920, Chief Medical Officer BBC 1975-80, married 1951 Tony Fletcher (one son, three daughters; marriage dissolved), died London 7 December 1992.

AFTER spending the war in the Foreign Office in Cairo and Rome, Elizabeth Cross was one of only three women accepted for the first year at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School in 1947 when, preparing for the coming NHS, all London medical schools were obliged to take women students. I was another of the three and we remained close friends.

While raising her four children, Elizabeth Fletcher (she married in 1951) kept up her medicine in locum general practice and by listening to the problems of her friends and neighbours. She must have been about the world's best listener. Later, she had a distinguished career in the BBC and became its Chief Medical Officer. After retiring in 1980, she worked again in general practice until her last illness.

Original, perceptive and witty, she loved talking with patients and others. She was a shrewd, wise doctor with a big talent for seeing things from another person's point of view, for spotting what was artificial or insincere and for analysing pomposity, power games and manipulation. An irreverent streak in her character enhanced these qualities.

Elizabeth decided to study medicine because Geoffrey, her only brother and a graduate of St Thomas's, had died a horrible death in an open boat while on active service. She never got over this but incorporated it into her life and personality. She felt that learning at his hospital was something she owed Geoffrey.

To some people this may seem a poor motive for studying medicine, but Elizabeth Fletcher became an outstanding doctor. She had already developed an interest in the minutiae that revealed underlying situations and truths to people sufficiently perceptive to appreciate them. She knew the novels of Jane Austen and many others virtually off by heart. It was this rather than any deep interest in the mechanics of medicine or disease that gave her distinction. She was proficient and interested in conventional medicine, but she developed a remarkable capacity to study people and situations in ways more illuminating than conventional methods. At one time she began to train as a Freudian analyst, but became disillusioned with the organisation. In my view, she had a better, broader and more original understanding of human nature than most psychiatrists and psychoanalysts.

Elizabeth Fletcher's intellectual and artistic interests blossomed after her retirement from the BBC. She read constantly and widely and entertained her many friends. She was a talented artist and sold her pictures to tourists in her native Norfolk. She studied for an Arts degree with the Open University, prolonging it out of sheer enjoyment. Her enthusiasm for the Italian Renaissance and for Shakespeare spilt over and enriched her friends.

Unfortunately, she was not a writer. So far as I know, she never published anything. Her robust and shrewd observations, her wisdom and her witty analysis of situations benefited only her family, friends and patients. Even her last and most unpleasant illness fascinated her and she was able to describe her feelings, for instance, while talking to a surgeon 'who has had his hands in my guts'. This was typical of her and part of her way of coping with a fatal illness.

Elizabeth remained close to her children, who all supported her during her last illness. She became a grandmother only late in life. During her last months she was determined to remain alive to see her third grandchild, which she did. Amy, her first granddaughter, is now three months old.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there