Obituary: Frank d'Abreu
Saturday 02 December 1995
D'Abreu was a skilful, delicate, gentle and speedy surgeon with whom anaesthetists liked to work - a good recommendation. He was not an "academic" but full of sound clinical judgement. Above all he had the surgical equivalent of "green fingers" so that patients did well even when the complexities of the surgery were great. In no way a prima donna in the operating theatre, he had an idiosyncratic way of challenging his assistants to prevent any mishap - a method of teaching shaped by his puckish humour.
D'Abreu's other great interest was the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, of which he was an Honorary Surgeon from 1950. He was a lifelong Roman Catholic and to this small hospital in St John's Wood, north London, run by the Sisters of Mercy, he gave generously of his time and expertise. At the time of his appointment it was a small independent charitable hospital with its own nurse-training school, a casualty department and a 24-hour emergency admission service - which put potentially huge demands on the consultant surgeons. The hospital took in patients of every religion and none - but it had in those days a special commitment to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Westminster. D'Abreu gave freely of his time and expertise in their care and treatment for many years.
The son of a Birmingham doctor, d'Abreu was born in 1904 and educated at Stonyhurst College, in Lancashire. When he left in 1922 he was Head of the Line (headboy), captain of both cricket and rugby and a natural for any sport he tackled. His interest in the field led to his becoming a member of the Board of Management of the Institute of Sports Medicine.
After graduation from Birmingham University he proceeded to Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1932. From 1934 to the outbreak of the Second World War he held registrar posts at St Bartholomew's and Westminster hospitals, in London. Already a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps (Supplementary Reserve), he was soon called up and served throughout, finishing as Lieutenant-Colonel in South-East Asia Command.
In 1945 he married Ann Bowes-Lyon (a cousin of the Queen Mother), and a year later was appointed a consultant surgeon to Westminster Hospital. To this hospital and its medical school he gave service for the next 23 years. He was also an examiner in surgery at the Universities of Cambridge and London and a member of the Court of Examiners of the Royal College of Surgeons. Later he was to become medical adviser and examiner to the Jockey Club.
He was always supportive of the students, especially in their sporting activities. Rugby, and especially the Inter-Hospital Championship, was his obsession and one which undoubtedly helped the Westminster team to rise to great heights in the late Fifties. Never was a match played but he could be seen up and down the touchline encouraging, cajoling and even swearing at his team. At other times, when challenged, he would perform the unusual feat of standing on his head whilst drinking a glass of beer - to the delight of his students.
Francis Arthur d'Abreu, surgeon: born 1 October 1904; Consultant Surgeon, Westminster Hospital 1946-69 (Emeritus); Honorary Surgeon, Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, St John's Wood 1950-69 (Emeritus); married 1945 Ann Bowes-Lyon (one son, two daughters); died 16 November 1995.
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