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Biographical entry Godber, Sir George Edward (1908 - 2009)

CB 1958; KCB 1962; GCB 1971; FRCS 1973; BA Oxford 1930; BM BCh 1933; DM 1939; MRCP 1935; DPH 1936; FRCP 1947.

4 August 1908
7 February 2009
Public health officer


Sir George Godber was one of the principal architects of the National Health Service. He was born on 4 August 1908, the son of Bessie and Isaac Godber, a nurseryman. From Bedford School he went up to New College, Oxford, where he won a blue for rowing, taking part in two losing boat races. He went on to the London Hospital and did junior jobs there and at Poplar, where he was confronted with large numbers of people who were too poor to go to their GP and too proud to accept charity.

He attended the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, became a county medical officer in Surrey and joined the Ministry of Health as a medical officer in 1939, at a time when the outbreak of war forced hospitals to work together. His first task was to organise maternity services for Londoners who had been evacuated to the suburbs. During the Second World War Beveridge published his report and Godber was part of the team that planned the National Health Service. He was appointed deputy chief medical officer in 1950 and chief medical officer in 1960. He later campaigned against smoking and for vaccination against polio and diphtheria.

A tall man with a shock of hair and a monocle, Godber had tremendous presence. He married Norma Hathorne Rainey in 1935. She predeceased him in 1999. They had four sons and three daughters, but sadly three of their children died in childhood. He was an honorary fellow of many institutions, including our own College. He died on 7 February 2009.

John Blandy

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2009 338 710; The Telegraph 10 February 2009].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England