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Biographical entry Dawson-Edwards, Paul (1919 - 2008)

MRCS 1943; FRCS 1951; MB ChB Birmingham 1943; LRCP 1943.

28 October 1919
Coventry, UK
6 December 2008


Paul Dawson-Edwards was appointed consultant surgeon to the United Birmingham Hospitals in 1957 and became a well-regarded urologist based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and a teacher at the University of Birmingham. His interest in urology was fired by Hugh Donovan, and he formed an excellent unit with his colleague Guy Baines and then, up to his own retirement in 1984, with Michael Hughes.

Paul was born in Coventry on 28 October 1919. Albert John Edwards, his father, was an engineer who worked for many years with the ‘Alvis’ racing team and his mother, Gladys Dawson, was a milliner. He was educated at Centaur Road Junior School and then, from 1930 to 1938, at King Henry VIII School, Coventry. There he excelled at most sports and became the school’s leading sportsman. For his medical studies he entered Birmingham University, where he had a good academic record and obtained a clinical prize in surgery. Again he excelled in a wide variety of sports. As vice-captain of the University Rugby XV he played mainly as a wing-three quarter and was a valued member of the athletics team. He also played for both Coventry and Moseley first XV teams.

After qualification and house appointments, Paul married (Elizabeth) Jean Button, a nurse, on 14 April 1944. For two years he was a resident surgical registrar at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where he gained good general experience. At this time he became a flight-lieutenant in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and later at RAF Northallerton, where he specialised in trauma and orthopaedics. He went abroad from 1946 to 1947 as a squadron leader (orthopaedic specialist) in charge of Surgical Unit No 10 General Hospital, Karachi.

Returning to the UK, surgery was obviously his ambition and Paul Dawson-Edwards commenced higher training as a demonstrator of anatomy at Birmingham University for a year before returning to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital as a surgical registrar. This was followed by a four year rotating appointment at senior registrar level in Birmingham.

On becoming a consultant in 1957, he obtained study leave for a year in Boston, Massachusetts at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, where he was an assistant in surgery and carried out research at Harvard University. An interest in renal transplantation was fired by Francis D (Franny) Moore. He did animal research work with Joseph Murray, a pioneer in this field, who was awarded a Nobel prize in 1990. Paul was fortunate to be under the wing of Hartwell Harrison, who became a lifelong friend.

Returning to Birmingham, the kidney unit was set up as an offshoot of the urology unit. By 1962 a minicoil artificial kidney had been developed by Denys Blainey and permission was given to start renal transplantation at the end of 1967. Paul carried out his first renal transplant in May 1968. He was associated with dialysis and transplantation for many years, before returning to full time ‘general’ urological practice. He amassed a large series of patients with benign and malignant retroperitoneal fibrosis, publishing on this subject, as well as the minicoil artificial kidney and the clinical aspects of renal transplantation.

Although he was a fine surgical technician and natural teacher, he was regarded by some as a hard task-master. Certainly he did not suffer fools gladly, but was more than happy when all the ‘team’ pulled together. Paul and his wife, Jean, hosted regular ‘firm’ parties: at one of these he told students that they were more staid than those of his generation. The Dawson-Edwardses woke the next morning to find the entrance to their drive had been bricked up.

He was a member of British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS) and served on its council (from 1970 to 1974) and on that of the Urological Club of Great Britain and Ireland. He was a founder member of the Midlands Urological Group who met each year at different centres to learn what other urologists were doing.

Sport and cars played an important part of his life, although he was not as adept at maintaining the latter as was his father. After giving up rugby, he took up squash and tennis seriously and also enjoyed sailing and mountain walking. All these activities were continued until his knees needed replacing. His love of mountain walking inspired him to set up the Vacancy Club: once a year a group of registrars persuaded their consultant bosses to climb a peak in Snowdonia, perhaps in the hope of creating a vacancy! Paul was a formidable mixed hockey player and always enjoyed the traditional Boxing Day match against the General Hospital.

Retiring in 1984, Paul and Jean were able to spend more time at their cottage in north Wales. He was a keen photographer and took up painting late in life, no doubt tutored by his friend and colleague, Arnold Gourevitch. Predeceased by his wife, Jean, he lived in his old home until his health forced him to enter a nursing home. But he enjoyed hearing from his friends and chatting with them at length over the phone: his intellect and memory remained sound. Paul Dawson-Edwards died of heart failure on 6 December 2008 and is survived by his three children (Elizabeth ‘Liz’, a retired company director, John, a civil engineer, and Sarah, a consultant radiologist in Norwich) and by his four grandchildren.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Liz Godfrey, Michael Hughes and Sarah Scott-Barrett; BMJ 2009 338 1988].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England