Obituary: Sir Peter Tizard

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John Peter Mills Tizard: paediatrician; born London 1 April 1916; Medical Registrar and Pathologist, Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street 1947; Assistant Director, Paediatric Unit, St Mary's Hospital Medical School 1949; Physician, Paddington Green Children's Hospital 1949-50; Nuffield Foundation Medical Fellow 1951; Research Fellow in Pediatrics, Harvard University 1951-52; Reader in Child Health 1954-64, Professor of Paediatrics, Institute of Child Health, Royal Postgraduate Medical School of London 1964-72; Honorary Consultant Children's Physician, Hammersmith Hospital 1954-72; FRCP 1958; Professor of Paediatrics, Oxford University, and Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford 1972-83; President, European Paediatric Research Society 1970-71; Honorary Consultant Children's Physician, Oxfordshire Health Authority 1972-83; President, Neonatal Society 1975-78; Kt 1982; President, British Paediatric Association 1982-85; married 1945 Joy Taylor (two sons, one daughter); died Hillingdon 27 October 1993.

IT IS very difficult to find oneself the son - and particularly the eldest son - of a famous father, and in Peter Tizard's case this was compounded by belonging to a family in which fellowship of the Royal Society had become almost an hereditary honour. That, in his own way, he achieved comparable if not equal eminence was the result of a complex interaction between inherited abilities and character (his mother, Lady Tizard, was a formidable character in her own right), his upbringing in a cultivated upper-middle-class milieu, in which expectations were high both as regards achievement and public service, the benign influence of his cousin Tovie, with whom he spent contented holidays from Rugby in the Lake District, and the natural drive to emulation, which the disappointment of a Third Class honours degree in the pre-clinical sciences only served to spur.

Proceeding from Oxford to the Middlesex Hospital in 1938 as a Scholar, he found his metier in clinical medicine and from then on his career was relatively plain sailing: the usual residences; army service abroad, during which he seems to have shared a tent with half of what later became the medical establishment; a middle-grade appointment at Great Ormond Street; promotion to consultant status as First Assistant to the Paediatric Unit at St Mary's, Paddington in 1949; translation in 1954to the Royal Postgraduate Medical School of London Institute of Child Health in charge of its Neonatal Unit at Hammersmith Hospital, where he was first Reader and then Professor, and which his foresight and administrative ability turned into a leading centre for research into the problems posed by premature birth; and finally his return to Oxford, in 1972, as the first incumbent of its Chair of Paediatrics and the most distinguished academic children's physician of his generation. In between, he trained as a neurologist at Queen's Square and in 1951, with his hero Bronson Crothers in the Children's Medical Center attached to the Harvard Medical School, spent a sabbatical year in the Nuffield Institute studying neonatal physiology.

Tizard was not, and did not make any claim to be, a great scientist, though his contributions to medical knowledge were considerable in range and quality. He had his father's gift for recognising when and how advances in basic science could be applied to practical problems - in his case not the defence of the realm but the care of sick children - and a talent that he shared with his brother Dick for recognising and fostering the diverse abilities of the young men and women whom he recruited to his speciality and who now occupy a high proportion of Britain's chairs in paediatrics.

Tizard's was a multifaceted character. Many of his colleagues, senior as well as junior, found him rather forbidding and acerbic on first acquaintaince or in his public personae, but in his clinic he treated his young patients with respect, their parents with sympathetic understanding, and no child or mother left his consulting room in tears, unless of relief and gratitude. He was at his best with patients and an inspiring example to those who had the privilege of watching him at work. Like most men of forceful character he made both friends and enemies, but his enmities as far as he was concerned were ephemeral, whereas his friendships endured for a lifetime. Typical was his friendship with Donald Winnicott (the then controversial child psychiatrist), as between equals. The rest of the paediatric community was either spitting in the face or sitting at the feet of that elusive genius.

Tizard could not abide pretension whether intellectual, social or moral, but he enjoyed power and position and knew how to use them to the best advantage: for instance, when President of the British Paediatric Association, he set up their model surveillance unit for pooling experience of rare but important diseases.

Amongst many honours, including the Presidencies of the British Paediatric Association, the Neonatal Society and the European Society for Paediatric Research, he was particularly gratified by his election as a member of the prestigious German Scientific Society known as the Leopoldina, by his appointment as Prime Warden of the Society of Apothecaries and by the award of the James Spence Medal of the British Paediatric Association.

Tizard was a beguiling companion with a large store of amusing personal anecdotes and a great capacity for sharing enjoyment, but he could also at times be brutally frank as well as sensitively supportive. His tastes were Augustan: he knew well and took great pleasure in the novels of Jane Austen, the operas of Mozart, Byron's letters and the writings of Gibbon, Beerbohm, Stevenson (he shared his father's addiction to The Wrong Box) and Wodehouse; indeed, it amused him when he recovered possession of Ickenham Manor, which had belonged for generations to his mother's family, to write to Wodehouse claiming relationship to the Lord Ickenham who figures in the latter's more felicitous stories. But when I persuaded him to read Bleak House he told me I had caused him to waste a month of his life.

He is survived by his wife Joy, a devoted Penelope at the end of his life's odyssey and by their three children - Andrew, who has succeeded to his grandfather's role as a public servant, Humphrey who has taken on the stewardship of Ickenham, and Jane who has followed in his footsteps as a physician to children. It would be true in his case to say that - because the mould in which his ilk were made is now broken - that we shall not look upon his like again, but his influence, fortunately for British medicine, will live on in those he taught.

(Photograph omitted)