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Biographical entry Horton, Robert Elmer (1917 - 2003)

MBE 1940; MRCS 1939; FRCS 1947; MB BS London 1939; MS London 1952; LRCP 1939.

5 July 1917
London, UK
2 January 2003
General surgeon


Bob Horton was a consultant surgeon at the United Bristol Hospitals. He was born in south London on 5 July 1917, the son of Arthur John Budd Horton, a schoolteacher, and Isabel Horton née Cotton, the daughter of a master mariner. He was educated at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s School, and studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital. He volunteered for the RAMC after completing his house posts. During the London Blitz he showed outstanding courage in rescuing casualties from a bombed building, which earned him the MBE.

He was sent to India and Burma, to the Arakan campaign, where he initially commanded a frontline surgical unit, subsequently leading a surgical division at the General Hospital, Rangoon. He served for six years and was raised to the rank of colonel.

He returned to Guy’s to complete his surgical training under Sir Russell Brock, and was then appointed senior lecturer and consultant at Bristol Royal Infirmary under Robert Milnes Walker. At Bristol he pioneered vascular surgery at a time when it was an uncertain specialty to pursue. He had a special interest in post-traumatic vascular injuries resulting from industrial and motorcycle accidents, publishing surgical articles and a textbook on the subject. On Milnes Walker’s retirement he joined Bill Capper to create a very popular firm. He also worked at the Bristol Homeopathic surgical unit. A pioneer of day case surgery, he was for a time clinical dean.

His writings brought him international recognition. In 1977 he held a one-year appointment as foundation professor of surgery at King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah. He found the post challenging (the hospital building was not even completed when he arrived), but he did establish undergraduate teaching, regular conferences and a Primary FRCS course. In January 1980 he was asked by the Minister of Health in Libya to carry out a cholecystectomy on the wife of Colonel Gaddafi. He was encouraged to go by the British ambassador in Tripoli, who was concerned that the colonel would call in a surgeon from Eastern Europe if he declined. Horton carried out the operation in Benghazi and returned home in five days.

Horton was a loyal member of the Surgical Travellers and travelled widely with them. He was an examiner for the Primary and Final FRCS and became chairman of the Court of Examiners in 1972. He was a Hunterian Professor in 1974, and was a valuable member of the Annals editorial team, in association with the then editors, his longstanding friend Tony Rains and R M (Jerry) Kirk.

Apart from his surgical career, he studied painting in oils and frequently exhibited at the Royal West of England Academy. He was a member of the Bristol Shakespeare Club, the Hawk and Owl Trust, and was a member of council and later president of the Bristol Zoo. He married Pip Naylor in 1945 and they had two sons, John and Tim. His wife predeceased him in 1985. He died on 2 January 2003.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England