OBITUARY: Professor R. J. Brocklehurst

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The Independent Online
R.J. Brocklehurst was appointed to the Chair of Physiology at Bristol University in 1930, at the early age of 31, and served in this capacity until his retirement in 1965. Thus his period of office covered a time of almost unprecedented change in universities. By virtue of his upbringing, character and ethos he was clearly more comfortable in the earlier rather than the later years of his long tenure.

Brocklehurst had a highly successful academic career at Oxford and at St Bartholomew's Hospital, graduating in medicine in 1924. Two years in the United States on a Travelling Fellowship were followed by lectureships at University College London, before his appointment to Bristol in 1930. During this time he published a number of papers on physiological topics and developed a taste for mountaineering. He maintained a special interest in the hormones of the gastro- intestinal tract and subsequently produced a number of papers on medical education.

In Bristol, Brocklehurst was responsible for the teaching of medical and dental students, but the department was small and poorly resourced and he had to spend much of his time building it up. In spite of his youth and heavy workload, he became within four years Dean of the medical faculty, an arduous position which he filled with skill and patience for 13 years.

Brocklehurst was a highly efficient administrator and consequently much sought after to serve on committees. These not only included the fields of medical and dental education and hospital administration but, as a committed Christian, over 20 years as a churchwarden at his local church and also representation of the Diocese of Bristol on the Church Assembly (predecessor of the Synod) and membership of the Central Board of Finance. At one time he was serving on more than 100 committees and was chairman of a number of them. Since he was notably conscientious they must have consumed an enormous amount of his time and energy.

He did not find it easy to delegate and kept a tight rein on the department, even to the extent of writing all the departmental orders personally, which, being a man of routine, he did regularly every Saturday morning. In all he did he paid a great attention to detail and accuracy and was aptly described on one occasion as a person who did not like you to push if it said pull.

Brocklehurst was determined to take his share of teaching in the department and gave as many of the First Year lectures as he could fit into his busy schedule. The students found his lectures clear and comprehensive and all recall the fact that promptly at 9am the Lecture Theatre doors were locked, to deter latecomers, something that would be totally prohibited under fire regulations today.

In the two decades following the end of the Second World War, the university expanded rapidly and changes came thick and fast. In all those involving the medical faculty, Brocklehurst played his part. For example, he gave meticulous attention to the planning and equipping of the New Medical School in the early Sixties, even though he knew that his own occupation of the building would be brief. The continual changes could not have been easy for an already busy man nearing retirement, who was happiest when dealing with things that had "stood the test of time".

Robin Brocklehurst - "Brocky" to his staff and students - took pride in knowing all his students by name. He was an excellent examiner and always fair, and was regarded with affection and respect. He was a very private person, a gentleman of his time with a full measure of old-fashioned virtues. He was modest, kind, courteous, reliable and unsparing of himself in the performance of his duties. He spent his long retirement at Newton Ferrers, in Devon, enjoying his garden.

Anne Cole

Robert James Brocklehurst, physiologist: born Liverpool 16 September 1899; Radcliffe Travelling Fellow, Dept of Physiology and Biochemistry, University College London 1926-28, Lecturer 1928-29, Senior Lecturer 1929- 30; Professor of Physiology, Bristol University 1930-65 (Emeritus), Dean of the Faculty of Medicine 1934-47; married 1928 Sybille Risk (died 1968; two sons, one daughter), 1970 Dora Watts (died 1986); died Plymouth 21 October 1995.