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Biographical entry Gun-Munro, Sir Sydney Douglas (1916 - 2007)

GCMG 1979, Kt 1977, MBE 1957, FRCS 1985, MRCS 1943, MB BS London 1943, Dip Oph 1951, LRCP 1943.

29 November 1916
1 March 2007
General surgeon


Sir Sydney Gun-Munro was a former Governor General of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. He was born on 29 November 1916, the eighth child of an extensive family of Scottish descent on the island of Grenada in the Windward Isles. His father, Barclay Justin Gun-Munro, died when Sydney was only seven. Sydney attended the Anglican Primary School in Grenada, from which he won a scholarship to the Grenada Boys’ Secondary School. On leaving, he gained the Grenada Island scholarship, which took him to London and King’s College Hospital, in the footsteps of his brother Cecil.

Always an adaptable soul, Sydney fitted in well with life in London, as he did with his fellow students, despite being some four years their senior, showing one of the characteristics typical of him all throughout his life – his ability to mix comfortably with folk from the most varied backgrounds. As an accomplished raconteur, guitar player and competitive tennis player, he became a popular figure in the social life of his contemporaries.

When the anatomy and physiology departments moved to Glasgow at the outbreak of the Second World War, he showed his adaptability by facing a harsh northern winter, always charming his Scottish landladies. When he eventually moved into a flat with three other students they rapidly learned another lifelong characteristic, his ability to organise those around him, in this case acting as kitchen hands and washers-up whilst Sydney presided over the cooking with the accomplishment of a professional chef.

On returning to London to start clinical work, his group moved to Horton Emergency Hospital in Epsom, Surrey, with visits to King’s College Hospital for outpatients and special studies.

He qualified MB BS with honours in medicine and a distinction in surgery. After qualifying he was house surgeon to the EMS Hospital in Horton throughout the Blitz, and was at his brother’s house when it was struck by a bomb. For four hours he lay buried in the debris and was almost given up for dead.

Perhaps realising that the clinical material available at that time in the medical school was somewhat limited, he gained an appointment as medical officer to Lewisham Hospital, where he enjoyed the wide variety of clinical work, under the aegis of his medical director, Humphrey Nockolds, who became a lifelong friend.

When Sydney returned to Grenada in 1946 he worked as a district medical officer until 1949, when he was appointed surgeon at the Colonial Hospital, Kingstown, Saint Vincent, continuing there until 1971, apart from a secondment to England to study for the diploma in ophthalmology. In 1963, he was joined by a second surgeon.

Many of his contemporaries were surprised when he returned to the West Indies because, with his record, he could undoubtedly have gained prestigious appointments in this country. To those who had the good fortune to visit him there however the wisdom of his decision was soon explained. Apart from the charm of the Windward Islands, it was clear that Sydney had groomed himself for this task throughout his medical training. His wide knowledge of medicine and his skill as a surgeon made him completely fitted for his life on the island of Saint Vincent. The only surgeon to a population of about 90,000 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, he was able to give outstanding service in all branches of surgery and many of medicine. He dealt with general surgery, trauma, obstetrics and gynaecology, ear nose and throat surgery and ophthalmology, in which he was particularly interested, and continued to provide a clinic for many years after his retirement.

After 20 years he had become known to virtually everybody on Saint Vincent and the neighbouring islands. He was respected for his own qualities and integrity, as well as for the work he had done as a surgeon, work which was recognised by our College, which granted him a fellowship ad eundem. It was not surprising therefore that he was appointed the first Governor of Saint Vincent in 1977, for which he was knighted. He became Governor General of the State of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines when independence came in 1979, becoming GCMG. As Governor General he always sought the welfare of the islands, established a successful arrowroot mill with Canadian assistance, a library, and a children’s charity for the welfare of the island’s young people.

He married an English nurse, Joan Estelle Benjamin, and they became partners in a very happy marriage that lasted 60 years. Joan herself demonstrated remarkable adaptability in exchanging her life in the home counties for one in the West Indies, as the mother of a growing family, looking after a surgeon who was busy all hours of the day or night, and subsequently as wife of the Governor General, acting as hostess to members of the Royal Family and a broad spectrum of public figures from church and political life, as well as developing interests of her own, including distinguished service to the Red Cross.

Apart from Sydney’s professional activities, his interests were in boating and tennis: he and Joan regularly won the mixed doubles at the island tennis club. He died on 1 March 2007, leaving his wife Joan, daughter Sandra and two sons, Rodney and Michael.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England