Obituary: The Rev Dr G. S. Udall
Monday 04 April 1994
PHYSICIAN and priest, school governor, counsellor, actor and benefactor, Geoffrey Sturt Udall, while not a national figure, led a life of unusual quality, which touched large numbers of people wtth its humanity and kindness.
Geoff Udall was born in 1917. He inherited from his father, an authoritarian figure and successful businessman, a strict sense of duty, self- discipline and service, and a meticulous attention to detail, blended in Geoff's case with a robust and earthy sense of humour, and a deeply compassionate nature which inspired both respect and love.
He was educated at The Downs and Bryanston. He was head boy and subsequently Chairman of Governors of both schools. At Bryanston he came under the influence of Thorald Coade, an inspirational headmaster who inculcated strong ideals and an open mind in those in his care.
Having seriously considered a theatrical career, Udall nevertheless went to St John's, Cambridge, to read medicine, and qualified at St Thomas's Hospital in 1943. He joined the Army Medical Corps, was sent to Burma and remained there until the end of the Second World War.
Following work in general practice, and as Assistant Medical Officer of Health in two London boroughs, his interest in child health, with particular emphasis on the developmental problems of children, was given full rein on his appointment at the age of 45 to the Department of Child Health at Bart's. There he remained for the rest of his medical career, becoming a Reader and Consultant Paediatrician. Throughout this time he was a popular lecturer to students in the Medical College.
He was one of the founders of the Bart's Children's Hearing Clinic, and did pioneering work in this connection in the East End of London. He became deeply involved in the Society for Children with Speech Defects (AFASIC).
His sense of humour and humanity come out in a story which he told with great relish. It concerned an uncooperative child in his clinic; trying to elicit some response Udall said to the child, 'Now look at me and tell me what you see.' The child replied: 'A horrible ugly old gorilla]' (This was unfair to Geoff Udall's impressive beard. To a child it could well have belonged to Father Christmas, or even to God.)
On coming out of the Army Udall had married Eleanor Mason, and although sadly childless it was a happy and mutually supportive marriage. Ellie tried to persuade her too conscientious husband to spend little less time on his voluntary activities, which all had to be coped with on top of his work at Bart's and a heavy load of personal correspondence which built steadily as the years went by. He involved himself increasingly in the details of the lives of those with whom he came into contact, illustrating Blake's precept that 'He who would do good to another should do so in Minute Particulars'.
Udall was a good chairman. He rarely 'led from the front' but rather looked for the common mind - sometimes a somewhat protracted exercise. At Bryanston, under his chairmanship, the school was one of the earliest public schools to become co-educational. Although deeply worried by the implications of such a move, he bowed to the will of the majority. He gave unstintingly of his time and was a great support to the four headmasters with whom he worked.
In 1981 he retired from Bart's. He stood down as Chairman of Bryanston. Later that year he knew that Ellie had cancer. When she died the following May, he decided to train at Cuddesdon Theological College. He was ordained in Christ Church, Oxford, in 1982. Geoff appeared to cope with these life changes with astonishing aplomb: he even spoke at Ellie's funeral - a service which those who attended are unlikely to forget.
Throughout his work in the Church in Reading Geoff Udall was in constant demand as a preacher, spiritual adviser, counsellor and friend to many of his colleagues as well as to his parishioners. 'His humanity shone through his priesthood,' one writes. During this time he was also appointed as Visitor to Bryanston in succession to Bishop Launcelot Fleming, where he extended his ministry very successfully to the pupils.
Despite the unceasing demands of the Church he also threw his energy, as founder trustee and chairman, into Horticultural Therapy, the only national organisation in Europe developing and supporting the use of horticulture as a therapeutic medium for people with special physical or mental needs. He gave the family estate at Beech Hill, outside Reading, to HT, continuing to live there in a small cottage in the grounds.
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