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Biographical entry Somerville, Philip Graham (1920 - 2010)

MRCS 1944; FRCS 1945; MB BChir Cambridge 1943; MChir 1953; LRCP 1944; FACS 1983.

16 August 1920
23 January 2010
Haywards Heath, West Sussex, UK
General surgeon


Philip Graham Somerville was a consultant general surgeon with a vascular interest at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton. He was a man of great professional integrity with superb surgical skills. At Brighton he achieved a great deal and raised the surgical standards to the level they currently enjoy.

Born on 16 August 1920 into a medical family, Philip was one of five children, and the third son, of Edgar Watson Somerville, a general practitioner in Leek, Staffordshire, and his wife Muriel Helen, née Watson, whose family had a silk business in Staffordshire. His paternal grandfather had the Scottish diploma and an older brother, Edgar William Somerville, was a well-known Oxford orthopaedic surgeon who made major contributions to surgery for congenital dislocation of the hip and helped set up the first orthopaedic service in the Sudan.

Philip’s primary education was at Brockenhurst preparatory school, Church Stretton, where he was very unhappy but made to persevere in order to follow his brother Edgar, seven years his senior, to Shrewsbury School. Both brothers went on to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, to read natural sciences. Philip followed his brother to St George’s Hospital, Hyde Park Corner, for his clinical training. He played tennis for Emmanuel College.

After qualifying, he worked as a house surgeon at Hyde Park Corner and then as a resident surgical officer at St George’s, before going into the RAMC for National Service from 1946 to 1948, serving mainly in Gibraltar.

On demobilisation, he became a registrar at Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield, working under Hugh Blauvelt, a delightful Canadian-born surgeon who first described subcutaneous fat necrosis in acute pancreatitis (Blauvelt’s sign).

Senior registrar training was at King’s College Hospital, where he was greatly influenced by Sir Cecil Wakeley and Sir Edwin Muir. He was appointed as a consultant surgeon to the Royal Sussex County Hospital and Cuckfield Hospital in 1952, at the age of just 31. He passed the MChir in Cambridge one year after his appointment.

His interest in vascular surgery increased and he established the Sussex Stroke and Circulation Fund with Helen Liwicki in the late 1970s, which supported the development of a major vascular unit at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

He served the Royal College of Surgeons on the Court of Examiners for the final FRCS and in retirement continued to be a valued examiner in anatomy for the primary FRCS. He was president of the Brighton and Sussex Medico-Chirurgical Society in 1980. He was a very thoughtful man of great integrity, but perhaps not a good communicator.

Tragedy struck twice in his family life. He married Nancy Gardner in 1947, who bore him a daughter, Anne, in 1952. Nancy died in 1970 and, after two lonely years, he married Stella Hardwick, who died of bile duct cancer in 1976, some six years after radical surgery. Philip dealt with these sad blows with great courage and dignity. His daughter, Anne, was executive secretary to the Laird Group and often accompanied him on surgical and College overseas meetings.

Philip retired in 1985, but did not remain idle. He was chairman of the League of Friends for the Brighton Hospitals and travelled widely, becoming an encyclopaedia of knowledge about the geography and peoples of many different countries, including Outer Mongolia. In his last years he suffered from Parkinson’s. His symptoms were largely controlled until the latter part of 2009, when his mobility became severely restricted. He died at his home at Haywards Heath on 23 January 2010 at the age of 89 years. He was survived by his daughter, Anne.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Donald J Reid and Anne Somerville].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England