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Biographical entry Latto, Conrad (1915 - 2008)

FRCS 1977; MB ChB St Andrews 1937; FRCS Edinburgh 1940.

Born
3 March 1915
Died
6 July 2008
Caversham, Berkshire, UK
Occupation
General surgeon

Details

Conrad Latto was a consultant surgeon at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading. He was born on 3 March 1915, the son of David and Christina Latto. His father was the town clerk of Dundee, his mother a frugal Scot who scrupulously saved towards the education of their three sons. Conrad, Gordon and Douglas all went from Dundee High School to study medicine at St Andrews. A younger brother, Kenneth, died in childhood of a Wilms’ tumour, which may have influenced Conrad’s future career.

In 1937 he qualified with first class honours and a gold medal from St Andrews University. He held junior hospital appointments at Cornelia & East Dorset Hospital, Poole, the Prince of Wales Hospital, Plymouth, and Rochdale Infirmary. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1940. For 18 months, from 1940 to 1942, he was a resident surgical officer at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Plymouth. It was during the Blitz on Plymouth in 1941 that his surgical reputation was established.

Ironically, Latto was a conscientious objector on religious grounds. Eric Holburn, assistant superintendent at the Prince of Wales Hospital, sent this testimonial to his tribunal: “Soon after the devastation of Plymouth by enemy savagery in the early part of 1941, Mr Latto informed me that his views concerning the destruction of life had become so strongly crystallized that he could not honestly serve, even in a medical capacity, with the Armed Forces…This objection is the outcome of his earnest and overruling desire to put into practice his conception of a Christ-like life…I know of no individual who has served his country so magnificently and in such a quietly heroic and unassuming way as Mr Latto…The direction of the hospital emergency service was left entirely in his hands …With bombs falling all round and the hospital services being disrupted he carried on with imperturbable fortitude…” H F Vellacott, honorary surgeon wrote: “During the Plymouth blitzes…It was he who arranged which cases should go to theatre, which cases should have blood transfusions…Throughout these trying times he proved invaluable, and I cannot speak too highly of his conduct and of his administrative qualities. When each actual blitz was on his example of courage and calmness helped to hold the whole hospital organization together. He was outstanding in this respect and a special note of thanks was sent him by the Honorary Staff before he left.” The tribunal excused him from military service, with the condition that he continued to serve as a doctor.

In 1943 he went to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary as surgical registrar for 12 months, followed by a year as an accident service officer at King Edward VII Hospital, Windsor. Now in Berkshire, and in his words “liking the look of the Royal Berks”, he became resident surgical officer in 1945. He was to remain closely attached to the Royal Berkshire Hospital for the rest of his life.

With glowing testimonials from honorary surgeons Aitken Walker and Gordon Bohn, he became honorary assistant surgeon in December 1947, one of the last appointments to the voluntary hospital staff before the arrival of the NHS. Aitken Walker, the senior surgeon, suggested they all have a specialty. Walker chose thyroid and sympathectomy for himself, Bohn was given gall bladder and stomach, Robert Reid the colon and rectum. Latto had done some urology at Liverpool and therefore got urology. He took up the challenge with characteristic enthusiasm. Now a consultant in the NHS, he visited Terrence Millin and Alec Badenoch at St Bartholomew’s and St Peter’s hospitals to bring Reading up to date with the latest in the specialty. In 1961, sponsored by Badenoch and Sir James Paterson Ross (Sir James’s son Harvey was at that time Latto’s surgical registrar), he undertook a two-month study tour in the USA of the major centres for urology and general surgery.

Latto was an excellent general surgeon who became a skilled urologist. He served on the council of the urology section of the Royal Society of Medicine and was an important influence in establishing the specialty in the Oxford region. In 1961 he jointly founded, with Joe Smith, the Oxford Regional Urology Club. His endoscopic and surgical skills, together with the length of his operating lists, were legendary. In the 1970s he assisted the GU Manufacturing Company in testing their prototype rod lens urology instruments. Harold Hopkins of the University of Reading, who had developed the rod lens and fibre-optic systems used in endoscopy, became both a patient and a very good friend. Another close friend was Denis Burkitt, whom he met when they were together at Poole. They were both Christian vegetarians: Latto became a member of the Order of the Cross and was president of VEGA (Vegetarian Economy and Green Agriculture). The two friends’ common interest in the effects of dietary fibre led to combined study and lecture tours in Africa, India, the Persian Gulf and behind the Iron Curtain. In 1971 Latto crusaded successfully for the introduction of dietary bran in Reading hospitals. He was a leading figure in British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS), at whose urging the College offered him the FRCS ad eundem in 1977.

A tall, imposing figure with a shock of silver-grey hair, Conrad Latto had an enormous influence on the Royal Berks and on the medical and nursing staff in training. Although teetotal as well as vegetarian, he was the very opposite of the dour Scot. He never preached his beliefs (other than the importance of fibre). He published few papers, but was a passionate teacher, speaking eloquently and amusingly in a delightful soft Scottish accent.

When in 1980 he had to retire from his beloved hospital, he took over the general practice in Caversham of his sister-in-law Monica Latto. He attended refresher courses and out-patient teaching sessions to update his knowledge and for seven years was a highly respected and much loved GP. In final retirement, he remained an active member of the local medical society, the Reading Pathological Society, of which he had been arguably its most effective post-war president. He died at his Caversham home on 6 July 2008, leaving a wife Anne, daughters Rosalind and Sharon, and five grandchildren.

Marshall Barr

The Royal College of Surgeons of England