Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Wright, Peter Randell (1919 - 2007)

MRCS and FRCS 1948; BA Oxford 1940; BM BCh 1942.

11 January 1919
10 April 2007
Orthopaedic surgeon


Peter Wright was a well-known and well-regarded figure in the British Orthopaedic Association of the 1970s and 1980s as an articulate contributor to the biannual conferences. Much of this arose from his considerable experience of working in developing countries, notably Malawi, Burma and South Africa. His active involvement in World Orthopaedic Concern also derived from that experience.

Peter Randell Wright was born on 11 January 1919. He grew up in Leeds, the product of a Christian (Methodist) household. He was the eldest of three brothers, all of whom entered medicine, the other two becoming general practitioners, the elder having obtained his FRCS. His father, Herbert Randell Poulter Wright, was a commercial representative and his mother Alice Jane Wright née Wooley, the daughter of a brick manufacturer, was a classical musician, instilling a musical interest in her eldest son. From Roundhay High School, Leeds, Peter moved to Leeds Grammar School from 1927 to 1937. He was attracted to medicine by the example of the family's GP in Leeds and won an open scholarship in natural sciences to the Queen's College Oxford in 1937, supported by the Leeds senior city scholarship in medicine.

He did his clinical studies at the Radcliffe Infirmary and became a house surgeon to Sir Herbert Seddon, who was then involved in his classic work on peripheral nerve injuries at the Wingfield-Morris Hospital, Oxford. Called up to the RAMC in 1943, he progressed to the rank of major as a deputy assistant director medical services in South East Asia Command, from 1945 until his demobilisation a year later.

Peter Wright returned to be a house surgeon to Sir Hugh Cairns at the Radcliffe Infirmary and, after passing the FRCS, was appointed as a registrar in general surgery to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, from 1948 to 1949. He returned to Oxford as a senior registrar to the accident service at the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1949 and, a year later, moved back to the Wingfield-Morris Orthopaedic Hospital as the resident surgical officer under George R Girdlestone and Joseph Trueta.

Peter Wright achieved his consultant appointment in 1952 to the Canterbury and Thanet Health District, with what he has described as a fortunate balance. This comprised trauma at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital with beds for elective orthopaedics at the Royal Sea-Bathing Hospital Margate, free from the constraints of an increasing trauma load at the acute hospital. During his valued 29 years in this position until his retirement from the NHS in 1981 he was joined by five colleagues who formed an integrated and happy team. The re-organisation of specialty training in the late sixties enabled Canterbury and Margate to become part of the King's College Hospital higher surgical training programme in orthopaedics.

In 1966, Peter was seconded for a year to Burma by the NHS, under the Colombo plan, to start a training programme in trauma and orthopaedics, initially involving seven young Burmese surgeons. During that period he advised the Burma government on the establishment of a national trauma service based at the main teaching hospitals in Rangoon (Yangon) and Mandalay. He returned for further three-month secondments between 1972 and 1984.

Retirement from the NHS in 1981 at the age of 62 left him with more time to be involved in the orthopaedics of developing countries. With the opportunities in Burma no longer available, he turned his attention to Africa, becoming orthopaedic surgeon to the government of Zululand between 1982 and 1987. In 1983 he advised the government of Brunei on paediatric orthopaedics. He worked in the MAP (Malawi Against Polio) programme until his total retirement from clinical orthopaedics in July 1989, aged 70.

Peter's private life was full. He married Margaret Alice Milward in 1943. They had two natural sons, Martin John and David Charles, and then, 10 years later, two daughters by adoption, Elizabeth Jeanetta and Alison Mary. His wife Margaret predeceased him in 1996. He subsequently married Jean Davies, a teacher. They moved back to Oxford. Peter and Jean participated in the activities of the Senior Fellows Society.

Peter Wright's orthopaedic contributions included papers on traumatic chylothorax, posterior dislocation of the shoulder, and fractures of the forearm in children in the British volumes of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. He was a member of the British Orthopaedic Association council from 1965 to 1966. As a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine he was on the orthopaedic section committee from 1964 to 1966. He was a member of and made significant contributions to the meetings of World Orthopaedic Concern from 1974 until his last few years.

Outside medicine, he was a member of his local Rotary Club from 1956 to 1997 and the Samaritans from 1982 to 1986. In 1997, he joined the then 'Blairite' Labour Party and also in 1997 threw his weight behind the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

Peter Wright achieved success at golf, squash and rugby fives in school teams and represented his college at cricket and rugby during his Oxford days. Thereafter, he continued with his interests in rock climbing and mountain walking. In later years he enjoyed travelling widely and developed ornithological expertise, particularly in Burma and South Africa.

Music was always an important hobby following his mother's early encouragement. He played a range of keyboard instruments, built and played his own clavichord and harpsichord and was always in demand to accompany voice and strings. He died on 10 April 2007.

Michael Edgar

The Royal College of Surgeons of England