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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones