Obituary: Professor C. B. Perry
Saturday 23 March 1996
At the time of his appointment, acute rheumatism was a common disease of young people. It was said to "lick the joints that bite the heart". The phrase was coined to describe the fleeting but immediately apparent pain caused to the joints by the disease, by contrast with its more serious long-term effects on the heart. In the first half of this century, chronic rheumatic heart disease was one of the largest killers of young people, often causing death from heart failure in the early twenties, and offering little chance of survival past 40.
In the 1930s, there was an outbreak of streptococcal throat infection at Clifton College, a Bristol public school, but only one case of acute rheumatism followed, whereas an outbreak in St Philip's, a slum area of Bristol, resulted in hundreds of cases. Perry undertook a study of the conditions which had led to this situation, and showed that a very important factor determining the severity of the effects of rheumatism was poverty, and not simply the presence of a streptococcal infection. He set up a long-stay care unit for children at Winford Hospital in Bristol, to allow cases of rheumatism to be treated in carefully controlled surroundings, with good food and rest available. He continued care of those with the chronic heart condition into adulthood and throughout their lives, and served as the Chairman of the British Cardiac Society from 1961 until 1962.
Perry was a Bristol man through and through: he went to the grammar school and then to the university, where he qualified with honours in 1926. He undertook, with Dr Carey Coombes at Bristol, some pioneering postgraduate research into myocardial infarction, a common cause of heart attacks, investigating coronary disease, at that time a relatively new area of research.
First and foremost, Perry was an excellent doctor. He maintained a conservative attitude to new medical treatments for his patients at Bristol, preferring a method to be thoroughly tried and tested before he would agree to put it into practice.
He was also concerned with the success of the university as a whole, and not just that of the medical school. He served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor from 1958 to 1961, and was made an Honorary Fellow in 1986. He was involved in the building of the student union in 1965, the maintenance of an excellent student health service and the rebuilding and expansion of the medical school in 1960.
His patients, particularly children, loved him - they quickly saw through his abrupt manner and realised he had an inner kindliness. His students respected him as a brilliant lecturer and bedside teacher, though they feared him as an examiner. His professional colleagues admired him, although, like all determined men, he did not suffer fools gladly.
With the advent of the National Health Service in 1948 he also became a powerful influence in medicine in the south-west region and in the affairs of the Bristol Royal hospitals. He was closely involved with the Royal College of Physicians, serving as President from 1961 to 1962 and was a censor (one of the main examiners for the college) from 1962 until 1964.
Perry was fascinated by local history, and wrote a book on the history of the Royal Infirmary, entitled The Bristol Royal Infirmary 1904-74 (1981). He had a particular interest in Edward Jenner, the Gloucestershire GP who had introduced vaccination against smallpox. Perry helped to establish the Jenner Trust and Museum, at Barclay, and published a biography, Edward Jenner, in 1986.
After his retirement in 1969 Bruce Perry continued his interest in the university and the Royal College of Physicians. He and Jo, his wife of 66 years, travelled a great deal. He was a keen gardener and had a large garden with a paddock where he kept bees; his friends were all given honey for Christmas. We would also be invited to hay-making parties. Following the recent death of his wife, Perry continued to live alone and resisted supervision by his daughters. He was still baking his own bread a few days before he died.
D. R. Coles
Charles Bruce Perry, physician: born 11 November 1903; physician, Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Women 1928-30; physician, Winford Orthopaedic Hospital 1930-33; Assistant Physician, Bristol General Hospital 1933-35; Professor of Medicine, Bristol University 1935-69 (Emeritus); married 1929 Jo Harvey (deceased; three daughters); died Bristol 12 March 1996.
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